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February 11, 2018

Denny Hamlin

Dayton Beach, Florida

THE MODERATOR: We are joined by Denny Hamlin, driver of the No.11 FedEx Express Toyota, who will be starting second next Sunday. Denny, your first front‑row start for the Daytona 500. Why don't you take us through your qualifying run out there.
DENNY HAMLIN: You know, if you watch TV, it was very unexpected from our standpoint. I'd never even sniffed the top 5 of a Daytona 500 qualifying. And you know, for us, we made one sort of mock run yesterday and then we were so far off that we just switched to really race trim, and we knew that the race is really won on Sunday, really Thursday and Sunday of next week, and even though the front row is nice, it was probably unrealistic.
So we really worked on race trim and ran in the pack for most of the practice yesterday. We then ran‑‑ before that we were in the Clash and noticed that handling was going to be a big issue, so we tuned our car to try to race well and win the race next Sunday. I realistically set my expectations‑‑ probably I would have been happy with about 18th, so this was way out of the blue for me, and it just means that the team did a phenomenal job overnight of checking every detail and making sure we had a car that was fast.
To me, this is probably going to be another great opportunity to try to win our second Daytona 500, and obviously a great run for Toyota, as well.

Q. From what you can tell about the car so far, how do you think this race will be different from last year's, handling‑wise?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, what I notice is that you have a lot of grip until you don't. It almost feels like a new paved racetrack where the speeds are higher, but when you break traction, it's bad. And so I think that it's going to be very much a handling race. Just in the four‑car pack that we had yesterday with the Toyotas, handling was an issue for us, and that's when we were so caught off guard that we were like, wow, we've really got to work on our handling and not worry about qualifying speed. So yeah, I think it'll going to be interesting.
I think today will be a big telling sign of that in the Clash, and so, like I say, our car is tuned and ready to race, so I hope today is a good sign of things to come in the 500 for us.

Q. Can you tell a difference in the stability coming off the corners with the right height change?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, it's so much different because typically as your car comes out of the corner, the rear spoiler comes up and the car gains downforce. Well, these cars are so planted to the racetrack, we're doing everything we can to get the spoiler out of the air, which in turn means less grip. I think it's a little bit of a balance. You know, you gain some grip by getting your car lower, but the spoiler is so much lower now to the ground that it's difficult.
I think what will be hairy is those three‑wide situations on older tires. It will be tough for drivers to hold their lanes with the cars down as low as they are. So we're just going to play it by ear. Literally we just had about a 10‑car pack yesterday to see what was going to be coming, and we'll do our best to predict it. But yeah, it's going to be different. Daytona 500 will be different.

Q. And you did talk about you were wondering if you were going to have enough speed, but you had all four Gibbs cars in the top 7, so it doesn't seem like the Toyotas were lacking for speed in the big picture.
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I knew that we drafted the most of all of our Toyota teammates, and especially Gibbs teammates, and we actually‑‑ we de‑tuned our car to try to handle well. I thought more so than our teammates. You just never know until you hit the racetrack, and obviously surprising days like this are few and far in between, but we'll take it.

Q. Do you know Alex Bowman at all or very well, and how do you think he'll handle just being in this 88 car?
DENNY HAMLIN: I don't know him that well, to be honest with you. We've probably‑‑ the few words of congratulations in Victory Lane was, I think, the most we've ever spoken. But I mean, he's obviously going to make the best of his situation. He's earned his position in that car. He subbed phenomenally for Dale Jr., and I thought he really earned that right. So he's the guy‑‑ he got here the old‑fashioned way, right; just like I did many, many years ago, just on hard work and grit. I think that he'll handle it. He's not a full‑blown rookie. He is a young guy, but he's been in the Cup Series quite a few years.
I think he'll be the surprising young guy of this year, being that he does have the experience. He's just now in a car that will be contending for race wins week in and week out.

Q. (No microphone.)
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, I think that he was‑‑ given the situations he was in and the cars that he was in for the early part of his career, you never really heard of him, right, and that's a really good thing, of the slower paced cars, is just don't be in the story, don't cause the wrecks that cost somebody‑‑ he just never was in the story. That was a good thing, and it's great to see someone that spent his career grinding in the sport finally get the opportunity in a car like he's got now. I've got a ton of respect for him. Everyone really has my respect until proven otherwise, and Alex is no different. He's earned the respect of his competitors, I'm sure.

Q. You made this a little easier for me when you used the term slower‑paced guys and becoming part of the story. With all the change and turnover in the series that there's been in the last three years and some of the replacement drivers, could that have an effect on the Daytona 500 and what kind of race it is? I know that you just praised Alex, but there will be young guys up front.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, there will be. Yeah, I mean, if you look at the starting grid from the Daytona 500 five years ago and you look at it today, it's just amazing how much‑‑ how the image of NASCAR has changed to the younger side of things. But I mean, the guys that are in the cars that will be competing for the Daytona 500 win, they got there because they're‑‑ not because someone gifted it to them, they've earned it. They've won championships in other series or they've been really competitive in less competitive cars, like Alex. So I think that there's not any one person that I'm going to be more hesitant to race around than others, but certainly I think that it could have a feel of‑‑ I'd say four or five years ago you could tell what‑‑ there was so much older veteran drivers that it was just very calm for a long period of the race, and I think that this year with the big youth movement, it has a potential to be more on edge for a longer period of time.
I'll be aware of that and make sure I try to pick my battles when I need to be in the pack and when I need to take it easy. But it's just‑‑ I'll trust them and use each one of them to my advantage any time I can.

Q. (No microphone.)
DENNY HAMLIN: I'd say that Kyle Larson, even though I don't know if he's won a plate race, probably not, but he's in contention most plate races, and I think at the very beginning of his career, he was very wild with his moves, and that pays off sometimes, but most of the times it ends up in a DNF. But I think that he's kind of taken that step, and I've noticed the patience he has in the pack now, and it's starting to pay off for him, and I would say that he's going to be the next superspeedway‑‑ next really good superspeedway driver that we're talking about.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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