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March 22, 2020

Denny Hamlin

Homestead, Florida

THE MODERATOR: Thank you all for joining us for the inaugural eNASCAR iRacing Pro Series Invitational Series race. We are joined now by Denny Hamlin, driver of the No.11 FedEx Toyota and winner of the Dixie Vodka 150 at the virtual Homestead‑Miami Speedway. Denny, did you have a lot of fun out there today?
DENNY HAMLIN: It was. It's always fun when you win, but regardless, I mean, it's just‑‑ it was a great event. For the community, the racing community, the NASCAR drivers to come together and put 20‑something drivers on the racetrack with such short notice, everyone is buying up simulation rigs this week and last week getting ready for the event, and for it all to come together and have a great finish, I think it was definitely a success.

Q. How much did you spend on your simulator?
DENNY HAMLIN: I don't know. It was a‑‑ I don't know, probably 40, probably in the 40 range, but it has motion and everything in it, which I don't use that often, but it's definitely on the high end for sure.

Q. And you raced barefoot today; is that correct?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah. Yeah, I like feeling the pedals. With shoes I just can't do it. I always go barefoot.

Q. There's nothing to do, there's no sports. This whole week on social media you guys have done a good job of getting fans interested in this event and giving fans something to do today and a little bit of excitement. I'm wondering just how much of that came into play for you and the other drivers in agreeing to do this and put this event on?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, you know, the thing is that nobody got together and said, Hey, let's all do this. I think everyone just started doing it, and then iRacing got involved and emailed everyone, said, Hey, this is what we're thinking about. NASCAR got involved, television got involved and said they'd be interested. So I think it all just came together. But no one really talked to the drivers about unifying and participating. It was all free will, and that's what's exciting is you had 25‑plus full‑time Cup guys out there willing to spend their time doing this.

Q. Can you talk about NASCAR often doesn't get among sports sort of the kudos of people who know from the inside what it takes to do things, pull things off, windstorms, rainstorms. What does this say about NASCAR? I think it was the second trending Twitter hit today was this. What does that mean to you, and what do you think this means that NASCAR was able to pull something like this off?
DENNY HAMLIN: I mean, it was big, and I think at one time it was No.1 trending, so that's really, really big.
You know, although NASCAR has its struggles at times, for the regular fan to go out and simulate a game‑winning shot or game‑winning pass, like iRacing has given them that platform, and there's no other sport‑‑ like NBA players can't go play NBA2K and put it on TV and make it look like the real thing. You can't go play Madden and make it look like the real thing. There's so much animation.
But iRacing's platform, like we really‑‑ this is something that really can gain a lot of traction simply because it's as real as it gets. I'm excited that this was just a first step and hopefully something that builds for years and years to come.

Q. It trended No.1 because it was really huge and a lot of people were paying attention to it. A lot of drivers are talking about this continuing and whether they will continue buying simulation rigs and whatnot. Some of the drivers were really experienced in this, some were not. How much time do you think will it take for professional drivers to catch up if they continue to be involved in this, and do the rigs make that much of a difference? Like you and I think Chase Elliott has incredible setups; we saw Jimmie Johnson's. How much of a difference does that make?
DENNY HAMLIN: It doesn't make that big of a difference. I had literally just a desktop computer in NASCAR 2003, which was the version before iRacing, and just a Logitech wheel, similar to what Ty Majeski had.
The equipment means really, really small. It is like nothing, because the fast drivers are the fast drivers. I know my driver Keegan Leahy in the Coke iRacing Series has got a seat that he found out of a junkyard, his wheel is nothing special, and his computer is nothing special, and he's the fastest guy I think out there right now. A lot of it comes with experience.
I'm really excited to see how well the drivers that don't do this regularly did today. What I thought my struggle was going to be was I hadn't done this in three years up until a week and a half ago when I got back on it. I'm excited that we kind of got the sport reenergized and got people talking about racing again, and that's all pretty important.

Q. And FedEx, I assume they will be delighted with the TV time and you winning this race even though it was virtual?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, yeah, it's great that we're able to give some value back to the sponsors, not on the real racetrack right now, but certainly if you put yourself in front of an FS 1 audience you're going to get some publicity, so that's always good. This was more of a thank‑you for them. They didn't pay us or anything. They're busy right now delivering a lot of medical supplies to people that need it. With the donation I made, Kevin Harvick backed and FOX backed, we made a good chunk of contribution today.

Q. Obviously this is a success, or it seemed like a success. What do you think the drivers' level of interest is overall in making this a continuing thing? Obviously it's fine for a few weeks, but like if somebody is like, let's keep doing this for who knows how long, do you think your peers would be on board with doing it indefinitely, I guess?
DENNY HAMLIN: You know, I'm not sure. I mean, I don't think anyone has any plans right now, obviously, with the state of the country right now. I think in the immediate future, it can be done. I mean, a month down the road, who knows. But certainly I think it would be a great thing to keep it going and get people excited for the real season when it kicks back off in early May.
You know, I don't think you're going to get everyone every week. That's going to be a challenge. But you're also going to have new guys coming in. There's certainly probably a lot of Cup guys that didn't participate that saw this and was like, I need to get back in this. Jimmie Johnson I'm sure is going to put more time in, Joey Logano, those guys. If you put the time in, you can get some of the benefits of running up front and you start to really like it.

Q. Denny, what will you need to see to consider this like a success? Is it just trending on Twitter and it appearing to be a pretty decent race despite all the cautions? What do you want to see maybe the next day as far as either reaction or ratings or what?
DENNY HAMLIN: You know, I mean, I think it's a success no matter what. People are talking about it.
If we got five new fans that were just sitting at home watching TV today that thought it was exciting and is willing to tune in next week or willing to tune in to a NASCAR race or go to a NASCAR race because they got introduced to racing today by iRacing, it's a success. So I don't think you have to‑‑ there's no number that makes it a success. If you made positive gains in your audience, whether it be one person or 1,000, it's a good thing.

Q. Do you have any sense of kind of what the state of the mood of the industry is as a whole? Obviously this has seemed to be a big pick‑me‑up for fans and everything, but we're hearing reports of at least some teams going on furloughs and that kind of thing. Do you have any sort of sense of what the mood is in the industry as a whole at a time like this and maybe what this race did for that?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, I think that it definitely energizes the industry. I follow and I'm sure you guys follow lots of people that are crew guys or crew chiefs or drivers in other series. They're all talking about it right now. You know, this is a good time. It's Sunday afternoon. You would normally be watching in and tuning in and watching us at Homestead anyway, and what are we doing, we're talking about a race at Homestead.
I think for sure it energizes our industry.

Q. Do you have any sense of what the mood is right now in the industry, just amid everything going on?
DENNY HAMLIN: I don't, to be honest with you. Most of the race shops have all been shut down. Just kind of waiting on‑‑ we have a scheduled next event. Hopefully that stays true, and all the development pretty much is shut down. There's not much going on there. We're sitting home waiting just like everyone else is. That's the thing is that people consider us immortals or superstars or whatever. We're still doing the same things. We're hanging out with our families. We're staying in at the house, playing board games, whatever it might be, with our kids. It's just‑‑ we're just in a holding pattern right now. Everyone is going through it, so you've got to make the best of it.

Q. I wanted to ask you if you could just maybe speak a little bit about today. A lot of people got to see Timmy Hill and Garrett Smithley and some real attention put on those guys. If you could just talk about the even playing field and the opportunity maybe for a couple of guys to get some attention.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, I certainly think it's good, and like I say, I think that guys with experience are going to shine, especially early on in this type of racing. I mean, you wouldn't believe how long, how many hours I spent trying to find four hundredths of a second for qualifying for the last week, and so I think that people that have experience and know all the tricks and know all the things you do to get speed out of the car, they're going to shine right now for sure.
But certainly I think it's great for those guys who normally you would not see up front. I thought for sure they were one of the top five favorites going in, along with William and myself and Dale Jr. was really fast through the week, so I think that the guys who you expected to be up front, they were up front, and it's who you had to beat for the win.
It's great that those guys were able to participate, and not only participate but challenge for the win. Normally on a normal week, they're thinking, well, how can I run 30th, right, so it's just a different beast when everything is all up and out.

Q. Were you surprised by anyone today, either on the good side or the bad side on how things went?
DENNY HAMLIN: You know, I actually will tell you that Bubba Wallace probably surprised me the most. I thought he struggled through the week and in practice finding speed and whatnot, but I thought he actually raced really well. He's a guy that to me stood out as someone that was relatively new but did a really good job racing. I think he got a pretty good finish out of it, as well.
He to me was the most impressive newcomer so far.

Q. Since you were competing, obviously you're focused and busy on other things. When you go back and look over this, what are you going to be intrigued to see, whether you go back and look at the race or go back and look at social media or anything else from this event?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, all of it. All of it. First thing I did, I got out of the rig and I came up and watched the last six laps to kind of see what was going on‑‑ I can't see everything when I'm sitting in the car, but certainly I was intrigued to see the last six laps and see what it looked like on TV. I thought it looked great. My first reaction 10 seconds in to watching it was like, I asked the people around me, I was like, Do you believe this is not real. Like it looks so real. That part was really cool.
Yeah, I want to go back and look at how FOX broadcasted it. I'm sure they're going to have a discussion if they do it again, like what can we improve on, how can we make the races more clean. I think that comes with experience.
I hosted five short races last night and invited all the guys to come race to make sure we knew how to race around each other to keep it as green as we could, but also when you get into competition, wrecks happen, and the way they currently had it set to where the cautions would come out automatically, even if it was a small incident, I think letting it go green a little bit more would be good, but certainly I think it was overall a success.
I watched the end, like I said, just the last six laps, and I thought the call was good. The interviews and all were good in the end, and it looked like a normal race to me.

Q. I also want to ask you, you referenced or you noted that the NBA players can't go play NBA2K or any other sports can't go play their other sports and look as authentic as this does. Obviously you want to be able to be back racing in May, but how does this become bigger and better, and how does this move forward from this point on because this is a space that NASCAR apparently can have more of an impact on than maybe other sports at this time?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, I think that it certainly keeps our sport relevant if we can keep it going. I think that it's going to‑‑ a lot of that's going to fall on the shoulders of the drivers. I think as long as you have drivers willing to participate, you're going to have a product that people are going to want to see. So I think that if you got that first step, then most likely you can keep this thing going because ultimately people out there, the fans, want to see their favorite driver, and they don't care if they're racing virtually or in the real world, they want to see their favorite driver win.
I'm just looking through my social media and all the same people that congratulate me on TV on a normal Sunday tweeted me again today. I think it keeps people excited about our sport, and hopefully we can keep it.

Q. I'm glad you mentioned NASCAR Racing 2003 a little bit ago because you and Dale Jr. are two that have probably been around the longest when it comes to esports and sim racing. Does that make it somewhat appropriate that you two were the two coming out of the last corner battling for the win at the end?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I didn't actually think of it that way. I think of guys like Timmy Hill and Smithley that run iRacing regularly and think that, well, they've got more experience, but that is true, that certainly it's going to be hard to find anyone in the field that has more‑‑ or whose experience dates back further than me and Dale Jr.
You've seen the story, he's talked about it many times, that he actually saw me for the first time on NASCAR Racing 2003, which is kind of now iRacing, and thought I was good and invited me down to Daytona in 2004 to come stay with him for the weekend because I was just somebody he was interested in meeting. And I was going through my late model career at the time. He ended up winning the Daytona 500, which was a cool experience for me. I'm down there that same weekend signing my contract with Joe Gibbs Racing as a development driver, and the rest is history. That's what we did.
He had a league called the DMP league that me and 25 other guys raced every single week, and we just kind of took it from there, so it's great that now that I think about it and you said it, it was me and Dale Jr. at the end.

Q. To follow up on that really quickly, how has it changed from when you guys started back the end of the 2003 era, the start of the iRacing era, how have you seen it change from then to what we witnessed this afternoon?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, back then there was about four really, really fast drivers, and now there's hundreds of really, really fast drivers. And so like I logged on and just kind of‑‑ over the last week racing some pickup races, which is you're out there with the general public, guys that it's open races for whoever and they put you in different splits based off of your iRating, and I'm running like fifth, fifth to seventh, and that was kind of my finishing position, and normally back in the heyday when there was only, I don't know, 2,000 people that did it, I knew that I could just go anywhere and just win.
And so now with over‑‑ I don't know, there's definitely over 100,000 iRacing members, there's so much competition, and everyone is so fast because everyone knows all the little things you have to do to be fast. So that's what makes it harder to win now than what it did back then.

Q. Talking about NASCAR Racing 2003, when you swept Pocono your rookie year, you credited a lot of the success you had there immediately to your experience through that game. Once you got to the Cup Series, how did sim racing really kind of inform how you approached these races?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yes. Yeah, there is. There's still‑‑ the way that I qualify like on mile‑and‑a‑halfs is a technique I learned through iRacing. I mean, there's no doubt about it. I take that to the real world. I think it works. I'm not the best qualifier in the world, but I think I've gotten my fair share of poles simply because it's all about how do you keep the momentum going, especially in today's world where you've got the 550‑horsepower package on these big tracks. Like it drives so similar to iRacing.
So you have to keep momentum up. You don't use a whole lot of brake. There's a lot of things that you have to do to keep your runs going, and so I learned that from iRacing.
There's certainly ‑‑Pocono was a big help to me. I basically didn't know anything about Pocono. I went and got on NASCAR Racing 2003 and started running Pocono and I saw the billboards and I was like, all right, well, this is my let‑off point, and when I got out there in the real world, I saw the same billboards and the saw the same caution lights in the same place, so it just helped me be familiar with my surroundings even though I was there for the first time.

Q. The whole racing world and just the whole world in general hasn't had a whole lot to do the past couple of weeks, especially with people staying in and having to stay inside. Besides prepping for this race, what have you done to just pass the time since there really hasn't been a whole lot to do?
DENNY HAMLIN: Just hanging out with the kids. There's not been a whole lot to do. Just I kind of just started heating up the pool, and the weather is kind of starting to turn here in Charlotte so it's getting better, and certainly feel like it's time to kind of get out of the house. We went on a boat ride yesterday. Really not a whole lot to be honest with you. Just kind of been obeying what our President has been telling us, to stay in, stay local, stay the course and try to get through this, and so the quicker we all do that, I think the quicker we get through it and we get back to normal life.

Q. I just wanted to check and see, is this the first time that you've had to deal with an exploding Coke bottle mid‑race, and will you have a word with your pit crew after this to kind of square them away on how best to deliver those in the future?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, definitely. My extra man/child over the wall that was supposed to hand me my drink and get a tear‑off gave me a shaken Cherry Vanilla Coke bottle, which that didn't work too well with electronics. That was a bit of a problem. We got through it, though. Got the hands clean, threw the towel out the window and I was off.

Q. Would you pull that same move in a real race to win that you did on Dale Jr.?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, definitely. I wanted the bottom, and he was really, really smart to‑‑ I mean, he didn't win, but he was smart to kind of block the bottom there because the bottom lane at Homestead on iRacing just has tremendous more grip than what the lane I was running in, but I knew that the difference in the two lanes was about a tenth and a half to two tenths, and I thought my tires were about three tenths better. So I thought as long as I got beside him, I was going to be able to complete it, even though he was in the preferred groove.
It was a risky call. I don't know what we were, 18 laps to go or so and we decided to pit from third, and I didn't see anyone really come in behind me, so I just‑‑ I was nervous. Restarting where I was, I thought I was going to get in a wreck or not make it back up there, but certainly would have done it the same exact way in real life.
AMANDA ELLIS: Thank you for joining us today, Denny.

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