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July 23, 2020
Kansas City, Kansas
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by our race winner, Denny Hamlin, driver of the No.11 Toyota with Joe Gibbs Racing.
Denny, we'll go straight to questions for you.
Q. Does outrunning Harvick help you mentally going into the Playoffs and/or potentially for the championship race?
DENNY HAMLIN: Not really. I mean, because every track is so different. Especially with the news of like no practice, it's like, Oh, boy, this season is going to come down to really a big old crapshoot at the end.
Hopefully you got your car unloaded nicely. You don't feel like you're in a oneâ€‘up position, I guess you could say, by beating him.
I thought that we were in trouble. Our car didn't have the allâ€‘out speed that a couple cars did. Certainly it looked like his had a ton of speed. But to kind of outâ€‘duel him at the end, it's gratifying. But it only lasts this week. It doesn't give me any false confidence going forward.
Q. You said back at Pocono it's not championship or bust because a lot of people will be quick to point out you're never won a championship, but you have three Daytona 500s, now 11 wins in the last two years. In general, how do you feel about your career, how things are going, where you stand in the sport?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, I love winning. I just want to get as many wins as I possibly can. Hopefully I win the last race of the season. That's the goal.
But there are no guarantees. We're putting together a very, very solid season in many, many aspects. That to me is a great season. If we can somehow get to the final four, we have accomplished our goal.
From that point on, the last 301 laps, whatever it is at Phoenix, we'll give it our best shot and seed where we stack up.
Q. Throughout the night different drivers looked like they were in the picture to win this race, the 18, 24, 12. You and Kevin kind of were running well but maybe not in the mix. When it comes down to it, you were deciding the outcome of this race. Do you look at that that this is how it goes this year, we are the two drivers that separate ourselves from everyone else, we're going to be fighting for it?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I think we're doing a great job of putting ourselves in good position to win races. We really could have a boatload of wins right now. It's incredible. Chris set a very lofty goal at the end of the season how many races he thinks we're going to win. I said, You're nuts. I'm thinking, We are a few blown tires really away from it happening, we still can get there.
He's bringing fast cars. We're executing. I'm not making really many mistakes behind the wheel right now. We're putting ourselves in contention.
When we restarted fifth right there with 20 some to go, I really didn't like our chances that much. I just was trying to execute every restart perfectly. We were able to get to third. Another restart, execute that one nicely, we were able to battle it out.
This is a wellâ€‘executed race. We won today with probably not the best car.
Q. Winning here backâ€‘toâ€‘back, what does that mean to you? You said you're better the second time around. You can't get much better. What does that mean going into a Playoff race at Kansas if you've won at day and night?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, I'm really looking forward to it. Any time we can go to a racetrack and win for the first time, when we go back later in the season, pretty optimistic, I love our chances, like I said.
I think we got some good tracks ahead of us. We have some tracks that have been tough for me in my career ahead of us. Those are the ones I really want to perform well at and get better at. If we can put ourselves in contention and win two, three more of these things before the Playoffs starts, we're going to be putting ourselves in a good position for the stretch run.
Any time we run a track two times, I spend a lot of time really downloading and figuring out what I need to do to be better. I still think there's a lot of work to be done with our team to make sure when we come back here we're a little better. I definitely think we were a thirdâ€‘place car today.
Q. I asked Brad earlier, to see the four former champions all running up front, you, Harvick, Keselowski and Truex, you kind of think it's shaping up to be the four of you that will eventually end up fighting for the championship in Phoenix?
DENNY HAMLIN: We're so far removed from that. I just think who knows. 18 ran well tonight. 19 ran well tonight. I don't know. We've been on this tire now for probably three of the last four or five weeks. It's not been the drivers' favorite tire. It's been a challenge aerodynamically.
I think it's so weekâ€‘toâ€‘week. It seems like the 12 car in particular has been really fast on this tire. Penske cars have been good on these tires. I'm optimistic. We've been really kind of nimble in being able to be good at multiple racetracks, different tires, different aero packages from last year. We're kind of winning at all different types of techniques and racetracks.
Who knows who is going to be the final four. In this format, who knows. I mean, we could leave a bolt loose and start the race and be out of it in the first round. I don't know what's going to happen.
I just want to win as many as I can. I'm not thinking about the championship right now.
Q. Under this format, what's going on with the pandemic, does this lean more towards that trend to really be the guys that finish to be the guys that can contend on a regular basis? Do you think experience is going to win out this season is probably a better way to ask that?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, I'm trying to think when the last time we had someone in their 20s win the championship. I don't know that answer. I think Kyle was 30 on his first.
Racing is a little different than other stickâ€‘andâ€‘ball sports. Even though your athletic ability may deteriorate a little bit, in racing I'm winning more with my mind now than I am with my talent. I just feel like I have to be smarter. I have to really be strategic with my moves. I have to really put a lot of effort into thinking about putting myself in the right situation.
Today was kind of one of those days where I knew I didn't have the best car, but I had to just kind of outâ€‘fox some people in some certain places. It just worked out to where we got that stretch run at the end where our car was fast and I was able to make the move.
Q. You won here back in October. What do you like so much about Kansas Speedway? What have you figured out?
DENNY HAMLIN: I think Kansas has matured into one of the best mileâ€‘andâ€‘aâ€‘half's that we have on our schedule. It doesn't need any PJ1. We can run all the way from the wall all the way to the bottom. It's just a really, really nice racetrack.
Seems like the asphalt has aged well here. I think that the tire that we had here in the fall was a little better tire than what we had here in the spring or I guess summer. But it just seems like our setup was working for both. We didn't venture too far from our raceâ€‘winning setup this time around, and it was pretty close.
Like I say, I still got some work to do. I think we weren't the best car, but we found a way.
Q. Is the way that you are running the best you've run in your career? How does this compare?
DENNY HAMLIN: I certainly believe so. I mean, 2010 was a great run with eight wins. I mean, man, we're more competitive week in, week out now than what we were in 2010. I would say some of our races in 2010 were more dominant but I feel the field was more stretched out a little bit, where we would hit a setup and take off.
All these cars with the aerodynamic package that keeps us closer, it's tougher to really dominate races. I certainly feel like I'm in contention more than I was in 2010.
Q. A lot has been said about your relationship with Chris Gabehart over the last 18 months. What is it about the two of you that allows you guys to have been so versatile?
DENNY HAMLIN: I think it really boils down to trust. I do my job, he does his. I don't venture into his department, he don't really venture into mine.
He knows I've been doing this long enough, when I give him the information I need to make my car faster, he just goes to work on it. He doesn't try to change how I'm driving to adapt to maybe what someone else is doing. He works on the car to get it where I need it.
That relationship really works well. We're building a notebook. That notebook is getting thicker and thicker. The knowledge is getting greater and greater. That's why you're seeing the results you're seeing.
Q. Do you feel you can be one of those all time great duos as a driver/crew chief?
DENNY HAMLIN: Statistics would say that we are so far. I would like to keep it going for many, many years past just these last two. Yeah, we've got something special going for sure. We don't want to mess it up.
Q. A lot of times the season has become a Denny and Kevin Harvick show at the end. Going to New Hampshire next weekend, it was that last year, do you expect another battle with them next week, probably many more coming down the stretch?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, those guys have been solid. They're going to be in the top five even on their bad days like today. You call it a bad day. He nearly won it with 10 to go or so.
He still finds a way to get to the top five. That's just a really strong race team. Him and Rodney find a way. Even when they have about a 10thâ€‘place car, they manage to get great restarts at the end and put themselves in contention to win.
What you've seen from us in the last year with the 11 and the 4 is a lot of mutual respect. We race each other with a lot of mutual respect because we know it won't be the last time. We still have probably many years of battles ahead of us. We've been around the sport a long time. We butted heads early in my career. He's certainly a guy that I personally would like to model myself after.
Q. You mentioned the tire. We've seen some things in the last couple weeks, strange strategy calls that people wouldn't think would work. How much of those decisions affected the decisions that you are making right now?
DENNY HAMLIN: Quite a bit. I mean, tire wear, it seems like we either have tires that wear too much, like Indy where we blew one out after 26 laps, we have ones that don't wear at all and you could run about three races on them.
I think Goodyear is trying to get a common tire amongst all these different racetracks. If we want to put on the best race possible, each track needs and deserves its own particular tire to put on the best show.
Being common and just having a simple, Well, this is for all mileâ€‘andâ€‘aâ€‘half's... Each mileâ€‘andâ€‘aâ€‘half is built differently. The way the asphalt is made is different. You need a different tire for these different types of asphalt.
I think they're just in a phase right now where they're trying to make things more common, common, common. In my opinion, it's not as good a product simply because inside the racetrack I can tell you it's much, much harder to pass than what it was last year.
Q. You said that Chris set the goal at the beginning of the year, but you didn't tell what it was. What was the number he said you think you might be able to get to or already gotten to?
DENNY HAMLIN: I think we had some meetings in the offâ€‘season. We didn't talk a whole lot about Homestead, championships. Let's go get a championship this year. His goal has been very simple: he gave me a list of about I think probably six guys in history that had won X amount of races. He said, You want to be a legend, get on that list. Forget the championship. You win that many races, you've done something special.
We're working towards it. We're trying to do everything we can. Certainly had some slip out of our hands over the last month or so that I wish I could have back. You can't do it.
We've got five, roughly a little over halfway through the season. We can get there. We just got to keep digging, keep putting our head down and keep working.
That's my goal, is to win as many races as I can. Hopefully the last win of the season is the last race.
Q. You spoke a moment ago about the New Hampshire race last year. What do you think of that finish now looking back on it?
DENNY HAMLIN: I thought Harvick just kind of outsmarted me really on that last lap, kind of protecting the bottom there. I didn't do a good job on that final lap. I obviously had the fastest car.
He just outsmarted me by putting himself in that position to where he was on the offense and he could play defense pretty easily by just kind of giving me the old door on the right side coming off of turn four. Looks like I was going to beat him to the line. He knew that was the move to stop my momentum. Had he been on the outside, I would have done the same thing to him.
He got the best of me. I certainly haven't forgot it. You learn lessons here and there from guys like him.
Q. Without the practice, you feel like you can show up to any race and win that race, at least be in contention for it. Do you feel you can win at every track or are there some still upcoming into the Playoffs that you think might be a little problematic for you?
DENNY HAMLIN: No. I mean, we run well everywhere. There's not one track we don't run well at. To answer your question, no, we can win every single week. I know my equipment is good enough to do it. I still need to get better at some racetracks. But certainly I think I go to the racetrack every week thinking that we can win.
As long as I don't make a mistake, we have what we call on our 11 team a green race, where no mistakes are made, we typically are always in the top five with a shot to win. It's on me to make sure we have green races.
Q. You talked about Chris Gabehart earlier. How close do you feel without the practice you guys are unloading from the truck to be up front immediately?
DENNY HAMLIN: We're doing a better job. We're doing a really good job obviously of adapting to no practice. Certainly I think going to races where we have the same aerodynamic package as what we had last year makes things a lot easier to unload closer.
In the second half of the season we're going to be back to some racetracks. You're going to see a lot of guys be much closer when they unload than what they were at the start of this deal.
Q. I'll ask about New Hampshire. You've been extremely good there during your career. Three wins there total. Why are you so good there? What makes you as a driver and your team so good at that racetrack?
DENNY HAMLIN: I just think I'm kind of a short track guy at heart. Always have adapted to the flat mile tracks, whether it be Phoenix, threeâ€‘quarter mile at Richmond, or New Hampshire. It just seems like the flat tracks, flat short tracks, I have always been really, really good at.
It feels like an eternity since we've run a short track other than the Allâ€‘Star Race. We're going to be going back there with a different aerodynamic package. We can't just rely on the notes that we had. The closest thing we could use is probably Phoenix. I wrecked out of that race early so we don't have a whole lot of notes to go by. I'm sure we'll be pretty close when we get there.
Yeah, it's just a track I've always been good at. It fits my style of driving. We got some wins because of it.
Q. This could be the longest break you have in the schedule for a little bit. How are you going to spend the time?
DENNY HAMLIN: Got some time with my girls this weekend. Hang out with them. We'll hang out tomorrow and celebrate. My celebrations for my winning is taking them to the ice cream store. They probably really feel like they won more than I did.
We'll just hang out. Obviously it's great to have a weekend off, especially with as busy as this season has been. We've been really on a stretch grind here. I'm really happy, it seems like, I don't know, in my career I win a lot going into off weekends. Something about being able to be No.1 for a few extra days motivates me.
Q. JGR, they seem to have a knack for mileâ€‘andâ€‘aâ€‘half tracks like this. What is it that gives JGR such an advantage on tracks like this?
DENNY HAMLIN: We don't have an advantage. We have great equipment and great people that work on the cars to make them fast. There's no given advantage. We all have to work for it.
It's not been a dream season by any means by JGR this year. It was a tough team meeting after Texas with Joe. He gave us some motivation to go out there. We needed to get our act together and start winning some races.
We don't feel like we're on top by any means. We still got a lot of work to do. But today was encouraging because we saw all of our cars towards the front. That really is a good sign that you have a bigger box to work with when it comes to the speed in your car.
Q. This is the last of the midweek races. We've had a few races on a Wednesday night, Thursday night. In the past we've had Monday night races. As NASCAR looks to implement more midweek racing into future schedules, is there a particular day of the week you prefer or do you think there's a place for all of them?
DENNY HAMLIN: I think there's a place for any day of the week. One thing I noticed with the ratings is any time we move away from a Sunday 3:30 time slot, it hurts ratings. People get used to, It's Sunday, the race has got to be on probably 3:30 eastern, right? When you have a Thursday or Wednesday, we certainly really got to focus on promoting these races and getting the word out that we're on TV in the middle of the week.
I don't think there's any shortages of eyes, but I think that certainly the promotion side of things is what we really got to ramp up whenever we have a midweek race because certainly I think people are at home, they're home more than they are probably on a Sunday afternoon, to be honest with you. We got to let them know we're racing.
Q. You talked about the fact it hasn't been the dream season, JGR needs to be winning some more. What do you feel is the biggest thing moving forward that you need to improve upon?
DENNY HAMLIN: I think we need a little bit of speed, to be honest with you. On the restarts, I really had to fend off the Penske cars. They were extremely fast. I really couldn't hold a lead. Once I did get the lead on a restart, eight laps I'd be passed.
I just feel like I need some more speed. However I can get that... That's so many different departments, aerodynamics, motor, it's all kinds of different things that we need to improve on just slightly and we'll be right there where we need to be.
Typically JGR, we get better as the season goes. This definitely has been a particularly slow start for JGR, with the exception of us, as an organization to start a season.
Q. Scoring two consecutive victories here at Kansas Speedway, what do you think makes you so good at this racetrack?
DENNY HAMLIN: I think I've got a great setup, to be honest with you. I think Chris has found something that really worked last year with the setup of the racecar. With no practice, we didn't have a chance to screw it up. We just kind of put it all back together and we had some great success off the notes we had from last fall.
Last fall's race was kind of out of the blue for me. We started 20 something. I knew within five laps, I'm like, Wow, this car is really, really fast. It handled all over the racetrack. I could move just about anywhere and were fast.
Certainly I think we've got something we can build on. I'm actually anxious to get my computer out and get to work on downloading Kansas here and figuring out how I can be better when I come back.
THE MODERATOR: Denny, thanks for joining us. Enjoy that ice cream this weekend.
DENNY HAMLIN: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports