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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
May 1, 2007
THE MODERATOR: Thanks to everyone for joining us today for the weekly NASCAR teleconference in advance of this weekend's events at Richmond International Raceway, including Saturday night's race with the unique title, the Crown Royal Presents the Jim Stewart 400. That race is the tenth on the 2007 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup series schedule.
Today's guest is driver of No. 11 FedEx Express Chevrolet, Denny Hamlin. Last year Denny was the Raybestos Rookie of the Year, and this year he's had a strong follow-up thus far. He comes into Richmond 5th in the series points.
Denny, I know the season is going very well for you right now, but maybe if we could start off, I understand you're going to have a little special helmet going this weekend. It's all a part -- it's all a part of benefitting a very good cause.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, definitely. FedEx Racing is doing a new program this year called "Where Your Heart on Your Helmet Campaign." And we are going to be visiting 11 different cities this year and in each one of these cities we're going to be going to various children's hospitals and donating $25,000 to each. We are trying to get these kids who can't really go to the racetrack, you know, because of their illness or what-have-you, and trying to bring the racetrack to them.
So we've got a special paint scheme this week. What they do, basically, is they let these kids design these helmets, paint schemes for helmets and they choose the best one from each city, and they actually get Jason Bean (ph) to paint it on the helmet whatever the kid comes up with and I wear it that weekend. So this weekend will be the first one in Richmond.
Q. I'll try to ask about three questions all at once, but all of them involve the same thing, and that is you're leading races in the Car of Tomorrow, leading races in plate races at Talladega, leading, leading, leading; and somehow or other circumstances and breaks just denying you those wins. Do you subscribe to the old NASCAR theory that if you keep putting yourself in position to win that those wins are going to start to fall together for you, and are you able to be patient that way? Or is this getting kind of old and kind of frustrating to you to be leading race after race after race and dominating some of them without a win yet this year to show for it?
DENNY HAMLIN: I tell you, it's a big mix of both. I can tell you that I'm excited I'm competitive every week. I'm a lot more competitive this early in the season than I was last year at this point. We've improved on every single one of our finishes from last year, I believe, except for one. So, we're making gains.
You know, we're just -- every time it comes to pit road, we have problems. If it's not speeding; it's a loose wheel; it's a real bad pit stop or got to come in, top off with fuel. If we could just race out on the racetrack and not have to come in, you know, we could have easily three or four wins and they all could be in a row right now. It's just we've kind of been bit and it is, it's getting -- it's getting old and it's been frustrating. But, you know, I'm still really, real happy that I can go to the racetrack now and know that I'm a top two or three car every time.
Q. Is it time maybe for your whole pit crew, as football coaches used to say, get back to basics, on just the coordination of stops? Have you and Mike talked about going to Jimmy and those guys and trying to refine your pit stops just for the sheer choreography of it, and then also work on the technical side of getting some better fuel mileage; are you talking about any refinements within the part of the deal that's not your part of the deal?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I tell you, we've got all the pieces. It's like, you know, you just can't get it all done at the right time. I mean, Phoenix, we kind of look like, oh, we've got pit crew problems. But then you know we go to Phoenix and we had the best pits stops of any other team. We won the pit crew challenge last time on pit road. You know, we can get it done, it's just we are to the getting it done at the right time.
You know, me and Mike have talked about it week-in and week-out that it's going to turn around one of these days. And believe me, Gordon and those guys have had great cars the last three or four, five weeks. But we've been as competitive, if not better than they have. He's just kind of got all the breaks lately and we can't really catch one to go our way. When it turns around, it's going to be big. We are going to reel off a bunch of wins.
Q. Regarding Richmond, obviously it's a big place for you, a, with a win there, would that help salve your wounds a good bit, and do you think your crew is as pumped up on your behalf running at your hometown track as you are?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, last year, not to beat a dead horse, but you know, we came in the pit leading with 30 to go or so, and Richmond is my home track and we came out third and I finished second. It's frustrating. But they know that I'm behind them 110 percent. These guys have been with me all but one or two through the very beginning of the 11 teams when it started.
You know, you find out how good your team is when you go through the bad times. You can get to the good times; it's just who is going to stick it out. I'm in it with them. I'll share the frustration with them, and, you know, I'm going to give away races, too. The Phoenix deal when we got caught speeding, that's all driver right there; it's my fault, and you know, I owe them one and they have owed me some in the past. In the end it's all a wash.
Q. I don't think you've run one yet, but at the Car of Tomorrow tracks like Richmond is this year, when you run Busch and Cup, is it still worth the hassles, I suppose, of a busy weekend of running from garage to garage when so little of it is going to transfer over and what you get from a weekend like that? What do you gain from a Busch race?
DENNY HAMLIN: You know, if it's a Car of Tomorrow race, you really don't gain anything. Kind of right now, you know, we're doing it -- we're just kind of going through the schedule that we originally set out, and, you know, it's what I wanted to do.
I love Busch racing and I would become a full-time Busch driver and quit Cup if that's what one day what had to happen. I have no problem in that. It's just right now it is a little bit tough to go back and forth, especially when there's two different -- you know, two different cars. But especially somewhere like Richmond, I'm happy to get on the track as much as I can.
Q. I wanted to see if you could speak a little bit on the connection you feel to Virginia Tech and the tragedy that happened there and the added import that you might feel trying to win for Virginia Tech and all of the fans that will be there.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, it's going to be -- this weekend is going to be about Virginia Tech without a doubt. Myself, Elliot, Jeff and a couple other drivers, you know, we're getting stuff together now to kind of try to present something to Virginia Tech before the race.
You know, that really touched, you know, everyone in the garage, not just the Virginia drivers. Yeah, it might mean a little bit more to us than it does anyone else but I don't think there's anyone that didn't really feel it. I had a lot of friends that did go there and that are still going there.
You know, we've got to work through it and eventually we'll try to get it out of our mind. But we know deep in our hearts the tragedy that happened, and it's my honor to carry that logo for those guys this weekend.
Q. You mentioned at Phoenix that you would possibly donate the trophy to Virginia Tech if you won there; would you be planning on doing that this week at Richmond if you got into victory lane? Would you do anything special?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, definitely. Any win that I get, especially in Richmond, Virginia, it would definitely go to Virginia Tech.
As long as the rest of the competitors agree on that, we'll be fine. We're going to try it win it for them and if we don't, hopefully one of the other Virginia drivers do.
Q. Particularly you, but really the whole team has run so strong during the Car of Tomorrow races, can you just talk about how you've been so successful with the car? I know it hasn't resulted in any wins yet.
DENNY HAMLIN: Right now a lot of the Car of Tomorrow has to do with the engineering, and they really came up with a lot of what we're running on those cars, the setups that we're running. You know, given we're taking them to the racetrack and making them work, they are not perfect right out of the box by any means.
We're really making something of it, and you know, it's frustrating we're not getting those wins when we have an advantage and you don't always have an advantage in the sport and we feel like we have one right now and we're just not capitalizing on it. So just got to do better doing that.
Q. You know, your second season here after such a spectacular rookie year, what's difference in your sophomore season? Is it more challenging the second time around or easier or what?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I'm going to a lot of these racetracks for the second time in a Cup car, and track time means a lot, especially in the Cup series.
You know, we've decided to run full-time Busch last year to get even more track experience, because even -- you know, this is second year in Cup and only third year in Busch, so I don't have that much experience.
I think this year, I knew that I was going to be a better driver than what I was last year. You know, we performed our absolute best during the Chase last year. So, you know, I knew we kind of had an upswing. We just had to keep that momentum going.
You know, right now we're pretty much carrying it, and hopefully we peak right around Chase time.
Q. And this rookie class, there's been a lot of talk about it; who do you see as being the top rookies, and is this class as good as the class you dominated?
DENNY HAMLIN: It's so tough. The class I was in last year had everyone from the Top-5 in Busch points move up with a couple others. So I mean, it was really competitive every week. I think last year, every single race of the year, a rookie finished in the Top 15. So, you know, it was very, very competitive. And I think now you're seeing how good those guys, Clint and Martin and J.J., and David, they are all really, really stepping up now in their second year.
I think really we just had an advantage running those last seven races at the end of 2005 to where myself and Mike could gel quicker than the other guys did.
Q. And what do you think of this next rookie class, the ones that are competing right now?
DENNY HAMLIN: They are right on pace really to what I thought they would be. You know, Juan's doing probably a little above average for what I thought the learning curve he was going to have. But Dave is doing really good, he's doing better than what I thought.
I mean, they are all really impressive. It just means so much today, you know, how good your car is, and if your car is not good, then you're not going to run well regardless of whether you're a rookie or not. Yeah, I think they are doing really good with what they have got.
Q. Back at Talladega, you're leading the race with about 30 to go and you notice in your mirror that every one of your competitors is in a single file behind you in that top groove, how did you guys coordinate that? It was an amazing sight to see.
DENNY HAMLIN: You know, I actually played poker with Jeff Gordon last night and I asked him if he had ever seen 43 cars just run in a single line before, and he said he had never seen it before, ever. So that was pretty amazing that they all cooperated.
You know, I think we were kind of in a mode right there where everyone was just sitting there thinking about what they were going to do for the end of the race. You know, myself, I was saving fuel, a lot of guys were saving fuel, and I think you know, things had been hairy enough the first half of the race that everyone decided to settle down to make sure that they were in it for the last ten, 20 laps, and that's what happened.
Q. So you guys didn't coordinate that in the drivers meeting beforehand; it was just natural (ph)?
DENNY HAMLIN: I think so, I really think it was. We were in cruise mode, really, running up top. The guys that were the next four behind me were happy to be there and so they just followed my lead. I didn't ask them to follow me or anything. You know, I just started running the top, and next thing I know, I've got the entire field behind me.
Q. Because you're newer to the NASCAR circuit and have not been driving that standard NASCAR for so many years, does it give you any kind of an advantage at all with the new Car of Tomorrow or is it still this learn, learn, learn?
DENNY HAMLIN: I think I'm back on a level playing field somewhat, with these other guys. I think that's why I'm really kind of excelling at them is everyone's learning with me, right now. I mean, I started the same time that they did with the Car of Tomorrow. So no one's really got an advantage on me yet.
So you know, I think that has a lot to do with our success right now in the Car of Tomorrow is everyone is just starting from scratch.
Q. And this last race, the fuel problem, really your gut feeling; did you have enough car to go on to win that thing?
DENNY HAMLIN: Oh, definitely. Our car was really, really strong. Even before that whole freight train thing happened, all of the cars running in a line, our car ran up front all day long. We were still sitting good at the end and when we just got a green light checkered, it was just too much for us. When we saw that engine blew, we knew that that was the end for us.
Q. Consistency isn't easy obviously at the Cup level. Did you expect to carry over the success that you had last year to this year?
DENNY HAMLIN: A lot of writers didn't think so, and I knew -- that's our motivation. You know, we looked at all of the predictions for this year. We ripped them out of the newspapers and we posted them in our trailer and we circled every single one of them. You know, 90 percent of them said we're not going to make the Chase; we're not going to run well. And it still happened, but that's our motivation right now is carrying what we had at the end of last year on to this year.
You know, so far we're really doing a good job of, you know, not beating ourselves too bad. When we do mess up in the pits, we try to find a way to recover and we're doing a good job of that. Just if we can ever have a race that goes smooth, we'd win a bunch.
Q. Is there any secret to maintaining that consistency?
DENNY HAMLIN: You know, I don't think so. It's just you know, I'm getting good stuff luckily from Job Gibbs Racing. They are putting great stuff under me every week. I've got everything that the 20 car has got and it's showing every week. I am confident as a driver knowing that there's 400 employees at Job Gibbs Racing that's giving their absolute best to me.
Q. What kind of a poker player is Jeff Gordon, and are you worried that he's in a mode right now we could break away with the points lead he's got and ride away to another title?
DENNY HAMLIN: He's not going to run so far when that Chase starts, I'll tell you that, because we all go back to zero. In the old points system, I would be really worried right now that we're getting too far behind.
Yeah, we're going to be behind because we don't have wins at the moment, but he's just in a groove right now. It's amazing how well that team is running every single week. And when they are not running well, they find a way to finish well.
So they are definitely the No. 1 title guys right now for sure. They are the guys that we have to beat.
Q. Does he have a pretty good poker face? What kind of a poker player is he?
DENNY HAMLIN: He's way, way better than me, I can tell you that. Just ask him from last night.
Q. I don't know if you talked about Kurt Busch's HANS device being cracked and it being looked at and NASCAR looking at it; have you ever heard of anything like that, and does that concern you do you check yours out regularly?
DENNY HAMLIN: Was it Kurt or Kyle? It might be Kurt.
Q. You know, I think it was Kyle, yes, I'm sorry.
DENNY HAMLIN: No, I've never seen anything like that before. It had to be a heck of a hit or it had to be damaged from a previous incident. You know, it takes a heck of a hit. Those HANS -- I've taken some big, big hits and they have been right there protecting me the whole time.
So it's tough to say anything bad about a HANS for sure. I'm actually glad to see they are mandating them on the shorter tracks now, but luckily Kyle is safe and he's going to stick around to race another week.
Q. Do you look carefully at yours in when you hear there's a crack? I guess it's doing its job, because before then it would have been something else that cracked.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I'm constantly aware of my HANS and the shape that it's in. I periodically tighten my HANS just as tight as I can get. If I notice that over time -- and basically you're on -- the straps that's hooked to you, you know, they stretch, and I'm constantly tightening the straps back up and making sure that I'm staying safe.
You know, if I ever go out there and I run a lap or two and I notice, that, man, I forgot to hook my HANS up, that will freak you out for sure. We take it for granted that, you know, we had that equipment; but what about the guys that didn't have it before us, and, you know, it will definitely ring your bell and make you think when you don't have it.
Q. Do you worry about tracks, if you look at Talladega with the repaving and Kyle's car flipping, flipping, flipping; should it be paved all the way to the end there?
DENNY HAMLIN: You know, would it be safer? Probably, it definitely would be safer. You know, whether -- I read constantly about these tracks losing money, so maybe it's just not in their budget to do it, so I don't know. It definitely I think would be a step in the right direction. I even saw a couple of different places where there still is no safety barrier, so hopefully we get all that straight.
Q. Just relating to the earlier question about the poker, how many pots did Jeff rake versus you; and another unrelated question.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, he definitely was the big stacker yearly, established that he was the man. Luckily I finished third, so I was in the money. He finished second and actually lost to an older gentleman.
But it definitely was a lot of fun. I had never played with him before and really never hung out with him outside of the racetrack until last night.
Q. Was it a charity event or was this at his house?
DENNY HAMLIN: It was just a private thing between a couple of us friends. We have some mutual friends, but yeah, it was fun. We got to talking about racing a little bit. I'm trying to listen to everything I can from him because obviously he knows what he's doing.
I'm just kind of fielding questions out there constantly, and seeing what he'll throw back to me. It was honestly a good night to kind of get to know him.
Q. And the other question I had for you, given the success that Job Gibbs Development Program has had with Joey Logano and Mark Davis there, do you keep an eye on those guys? Certainly they will be the next generation of drivers that will be nipping at your heels eventually.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I tell my girlfriend all the time that those guys could take my job easily. Joey and Mark have done an awesome job with that development program and they are winning races. They are running up front. Gibbs is definitely giving them good equipment. But, they are driving them and they are doing a really good job doing it. So it ain't going to be long until you see those guys in the Cup series.
THE MODERATOR: Denny Hamlin, thanks a lot, pal, for joining us. Fifth in points, I know you're looking to move up and sounds like you're really confident this week and the rest of the season. Best of luck.
DENNY HAMLIN: Thanks for having me.
THE MODERATOR: Next week's teleconference, a special day and time, we are going to have it on Monday at noon Eastern. It will be a live out of the testing at Lowe's Motor Speedway and Greg Biffle will be the guest. So once again, next Monday at noon Eastern, Greg Biffle the guest.
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