Special Motorsports Event - Hamlin/Grubb Interview
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing How different has it been for you to work with Darian Grubb? "It's hard to say right now. Really, you just go through checklist stuff when you get to a test like this. Until we get somewhere -- I think we're going to have a tire test at Texas here in a few weeks -- that's really going to be the moment where I see how he (Darian Grubb) does things and how he relates to the way I react to how the car is doing."
What are your impressions so far of Darian Grubb? "Very laid back. Very similar to Mike (Ford) in that sense. Both of them are very laid back at the race track and I think they both have very similar demeanors."
What is your assessment so far of the changes NASCAR has put in place during this test? "It's been good. I like that we're running at faster speeds. I'm not opposed to running faster at any point, but it looks like the two-car tandem is still going to happen which I'm not a huge fan of that. We'll do it either way that they want to do it. They seem like they have closed the gap between the draft of the pack of cars and the two-car tandem."
What did you take from last year that will help you this season? "It was a trying year for everyone with the team and coming back I feel like we're stronger than what we've ever been. We've made a lot of changes within our organization. Not just the crew chief, but a lot of people. We have a new spotter this year. All three teams have new spotters. There's a lot of internal changes that's gone on at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) and I feel like we've got good personnel. The way that we're doing things within our shop I feel like is heading in the right direction. I think because of that you're going to see a lot more success from everyone at (Joe) Gibbs (Racing)."
How do you deal with such high expectations going into the season? "I've had them every year. It's no different. No one is ever going to put any more pressure on me than I'm going to put myself to perform. I expect the best out of myself and when I don't live up to those expectations I take it the hardest."
What is it that excites you for this season? "Hearing the things of how things are getting through the shop. How the processes are starting to trim down. It's not going to take as long when we want to change something in a race car to actually get to the race track. It's actually going to happen sooner. Those things are all good. Just everyone's attitude seems to be a little bit more upbeat this year. Last year we started off the year around this time with the engine room catching on fire and just a lot of different things. A lot of obstacles that kept us from being successful last year. This year, it seems like everything is a lot smoother."
How does Darian Grubb run the team compared to how Mike Ford did in the past? "He's (Darian Grubb) very in tune with the race team. What I've noticed so far is he gets the heartbeat of the guys themselves. He takes them to dinner just about every night, and understands this is a team sport. It's not about him and all of the decisions he makes of making that car go well. It's everyone that has a hand or a wrench on that race car. He's really in tune with the race team."
Do you expect to get off to a good start to the season? "There's no reason why we shouldn't be successful right off the bat. I think it's typical from me personally to start off slow - - when I say slow, five or six races into the season -- but I think that's going to be a little bit shorter this year. I think that there's some things that we're going to try to implement with our cars that's going to be down the line and things like that. This type of racing is all about timing and when you perform at the right time and we need to perform our best in September."
What could you have done differently last year? "There were moments within the season where I felt like I didn't communicate to Mike (Ford) as well as what I should've. Other than that we just had a lot of issues between engine failures and mechanical failures and things like that happening. None of us running good. All of that kind of took its toll. Not a whole lot that I would've done different, we just wish we would've performed better. We just didn't have the parts and pieces in place I feel like to do that."
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing (continued) Why did you decide to go out to Scottsdale, Arizona during the offseason? "Ever since I was eight years old I've been consumed with racing. I've lived it and breathed it. Every day of the year I've been dealing with racing since I was eight years old. That's 23 years -- I needed a break. I needed to get away from Charlotte because that's where everyone is at and you see everyone and everyone wants to talk about racing. I just needed to get away from racing as a whole after last year and get rejuvenated and I feel like moving away for a few months does that for me. I was so excited just to get to this test and no one is every excited about testing on a superspeedway. It's going to be the same after I go back (to Scottsdale) from here and then we have a test in Texas. I'm going to be excited to go to that test and that's because I got away from it. I took a little bit of a break and I think that's what we needed after last year."
Are you playing a lot of golf? "Not every day, but close. I'm working on it. I want to eventually when racing is done, I'd love to play on the senior's tour (Champions Tour). That's a realistic goal for me."
Why did you decide to change spotters from Curtis Markham to Chris Lambert? "That was tough. That was as tough as what Mike (Ford) was with me. Mike and my family have a really strong relationship and me and Curtis (Markham) have a really strong relationship. Curtis is the guy who called J.D. Gibbs when I was testing a Late Model and said, 'You need to get to the race track and take a look at this guys.' So, that part of it is really, really tough. But, Chris (Lambert) because available, he's a guy that we've been looking at for a while and I just feel like the way he communicates and all is giving me the information that I need. The trio of me and Mike and Curtis had been very successful, but I just feel like it had all run its course over the six years that we were together. It's hard to keep things fresh when it goes that long. Having two different guys on the radio this year that you've never heard before -- if nothing it just gets you excited and rejuvenated and feeling like it's a new beginning and we're starting all over."
What is your handicap in golf? "I was middle 20s a year ago and I'm getting in the single digits now. So we're making progress."
Have you begun to find out how much you and Darian Grubb have in common in terms of your background? "Yeah, it took about a lunch session before I realized how very similar that we are in the backgrounds that we have. Obviously him coming from Virginia Tech, that makes it easy to root for the same football teams on Saturday. It's just -- he's very family and goal oriented in the sense that he's very in tune with his family and he considers his race team his family. Even though he's a guy that's a little bit quieter than a lot of crew chiefs, he's got a big heart and he's got the brains of about five of me."
Have you learned that you need to take time when you can to get away from racing? "You all that are standing right here are part of this every single week. It gets taxing. It gets tiring and you take advantage of every break that you possibly can get and like I said doing it for 20 straight years you just need a break. If I'm going to do this for another 10 I've got to hit the reset button every now and then. I think it's good for some drivers to go all out like Kyle Busch. He loves it so much he wants to do it every single day. Other drivers like Jeff Gordon, myself I don't think that we need to live it and breathe it as much to get the same result. I think that each person it works different for and for me at this point in my career, it's taking those breaks when I can get them."
How much has the new engine alignment with Toyota Racing Development helped Joe Gibbs Racing? "I think it's a little bit. I think a lot of it is the personnel. You don't have a whole lot of personnel with JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) that are focused just on engines. You assign some different guys to different positions. You don't have to worry about developing more horsepower over and over. You kind of leave it to the 100 or so people in California to do that for you at TRD (Toyota Racing Development). That part of it is off of our shoulders and we can spend that money and resources on different aspects -- engineering and aero and things like that. So, I think all of that is better for our race team."
Have you noticed a big difference yet with the Michael Waltrip Racing alliance? "I just notice that the crew chiefs talk a lot more it seems like this time around and this is just one test. I haven't seen how it's going to work on a race weekend, but I do know that the crew chiefs are speaking a lot more and talking about setups and things like that."
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing (continued) How do the cars feel in the big pack during this test and do you think we will see pack racing in February? "If I had to guess right now and they lined us up to race I'd say that you'd see a pack for most of the day. You're going to see breakaways here and there but I think that for the most part the pack can run fast enough to keep up with the two-car tandem. The two-car tandem will get out there a little bit but I think that if you get a big enough pack with 20 or 30 cars they will eat up a tandem pretty quick."
How is the stability of the race car when you are racing in big packs? "It's fast. When we went out there for that draft session yesterday immediately you started thinking, 'Wow, if we wreck this could be big.' That's the consequences that we know that could happen. We're all about making a better show for the fans and I feel like they like to see pack racing. They don't like to see the cars strung out as much as it was with the tandem and I think speeding these race cars up is going to do that."
Do you support NASCAR's view to not tell drivers what they can and can't do when it comes to superspeedway racing? "Anytime you tell us not to do something then when we do it it's up for a judgment call after that. I think that would open NASCAR up to too many judgment calls of, 'Well, did he get forced into the back bumper of that guy or did he choose to do that?' So, that's why they don't want to get into making rules about it. I think that they did it in Talladega right before that drivers meeting and that's when I raised cain on Twitter about it and was like, 'This is the dumbest thing I've ever heard of.' They just don't want to do that. They want to do it by fixing the rules to where it's not as beneficial as it was before. And they have closed that gap no doubt about it. We're running fast enough now to where our RPMs are running so high that the engine builders are starting to get worried. Through the talks that I've had, that's not a bad thing in NASCAR's mind. If you want to take those chances then go ahead, but you could face the consequences of blowing up. I think that they're trying to put this back in the drivers hands a little bit more than what it was in the past."
Does it feel good to have a drafting partner again? "No, I don't have a drafting partner again. I just wait for the 18 (Kyle Busch) and the 20 (Joey Logano) to get tired of each other and then I'm the stepchild that jumps in."
DARIAN GRUBB, crew chief, No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing What do you think of Denny Hamlin? "He's a great guy. I'm honestly enjoying getting to know him and getting adjusted to the difference on the radio and things like that. Just hearing those different voices is something that's hard to get used to."
Had you heard anything about Denny Hamlin prior to meeting him? "Not really. We had talked a little bit in the past on the phone and a few meetings trying to get the deal setup so I felt like we kind of knew each other a little bit. Just the little of what we know of each other in the garage, he's (Denny Hamlin) is a pretty easy going, quiet guy."
How have you found yourself getting acclimated to Joe Gibbs Racing? "It's definitely an adjustment process just trying to get used to all of the people and the faces and the names and where to go to get things done, but it's definitely a top notch organization. The entire (Joe) Gibbs (Racing) organization is very strong and very good people. It's just me learning who all of the new faces and names are."
Will it be tough to get off to a good start with so many new faces on the team? "I don't think so. It's just kind of a resetting process for what they're doing right now. Trying to get everybody pulling in one direction trying to get all three teams working a little closer together -- the driver communication, the crew chief communication and all of those things. We're just trying to clean up all of the loose ends and where they felt like they had lack of communication in the past and just trying to set it off on the right foot."
What are your expectations coming into this season? "I'd love to go out there and just do more of the same. Win the Daytona 500, win a championship -- were big achievements. The wins with Casey Mears and all of those other things through those days have just been things to put on the resume that I just really enjoyed. Being able to go out there and do it with a new organization and a new driver is going to be a lot of fun."
DARIAN GRUBB, crew chief, No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing (continued) What did you like about Denny Hamlin compared to other crew chief jobs that were open? "It's definitely just being a championship contender and a championship contending team. They definitely have the capability and the personnel and all of the resources that they need. They're on top of the game and just need that last little push to be able to put everything together to get there."
What attracted you to Joe Gibbs Racing? "They have a really good staff back at the shop that they do with the engineering. The way that they approach things is a lot more engineering based so it's a very comfortable place for me being an engineer with that background so I'm really looking forward to getting to know all of these people and looking at the projects that they're working on."
What is the first thing that you thought needed to be changed when you started at Joe Gibbs Racing? "I really haven't said any of those things yet because I don't think that there are any glaring weaknesses. Obviously they're a very good, strong team with what they have. It's more now me trying to fit into their system, learn how everybody on the FedEx team works together or how the FedEx team works with other teams there and how the communication works. I'm not really going to try to come in and change a lot of things. It's more just trying to learn, fit in and then make everybody have a new mentality that we're all going to work together to try to win a championship."
How important is it to you to gain respect with your new team? "It really is. It's all about friendship. We're out here for 38 weeks a year. We've got to live, eat, sleep and breathe together so we've got to do everything we can do to make sure we're all getting along and we're all doing our jobs 100 percent and enjoying it when we show up."
How close of a relationship do you expect to have with Denny Hamlin? "I definitely want to get to know him outside of the race track and to have that friendship because you have to have that I think to have the open communication with what you want to do. You have to be able to be open in good times and bad to make sure you're doing everything the right way. So, I'm hoping to have some of those relationships on the outside of the race track, not just a professional relationship."
Will you feel ready for Speed Weeks after three days testing at Daytona? "We're definitely going to need more time. We're taking a lot of lists back. We've got a few things we're jotting down, the things we're going to make changes as we go around. Just more of what I have to learn about the systems they use and the pieces and parts. Learning the aspect of the TRD (Toyota Racing Development) relationship and all of the Toyota resources that they use. How they work with Michael Waltrip Racing and some of those things. Those are some of the things that I've got a list to go back and start scratching off to make sure that I learn before we come back to race."
Do you feel comfortable with whatever comes out of this test with changes? "I don't think you're going to find a crew chief in this garage that feels like they have an understanding exactly of what we're going to come back with yet. We're going to go out and do some more drafting this afternoon with a different package and see how that goes and then they're going to have to see how NASCAR reacts to that and what we have to do. We just have to be ready for everything as you come down here."
Do you think NASCAR is doing enough to give the teams the tools to work with? "I really think so. They're definitely thinking ahead and doing a lot of research and development back at their shop just trying to come here with a preplanned effort with some of the changes and things that they've already done. They've got the data behind it and what they want to do and what they want to accomplish. As they filter that out to us, we go out and hit the race track with it and see how that changes our cars."
Has there been a set of changes during the test that you've really liked? "We're okay with whatever they come up with. It's all about just a learning game trying to use everything to your advantage and making sure you maximize your potential out of whatever rule changes they come up with."
DARIAN GRUBB, crew chief, No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing (continued) Are you comfortable with the 200 MPH speeds? "I think so. That's something that is all in the drivers hands at that point and having the handling actually become a little bit of an issue is fun for the crew chief. It puts a little bit more back in our pockets where we have something to work with. I think the driver talent and all of those other things seem to step up the competition level when you have that out there."
Do you think there's room to go higher with the speeds? "I think there is, but it's one of those things that you're going to have to slowly creep into that. We haven't raced at those speeds yet. I think you're going to have to do that and prove it for a while and make sure there's no injuries and downfalls from that. I don't think you're going to see those issues with that speed from everything that we've seen so far, but I'd be pretty afraid to go too much higher than that."
What do you like best about Joe Gibbs Racing so far? "It's just been a lot of fun. Just the newness of it and getting to know all of the new guys and hearing all of the jokes and the things they do for practical jokes with each other is a lot of fun. I think we're going to have a lot of fun together this year."
Why do you think we saw so many crew chiefs switching teams and drivers this year? "I think it's more just a product of the market and what's going on with the sponsorships. It's a performance driven sport and somebody has to be accountable for that and try to go out there. Just make sure that you're doing something to try to improve your team."
Is the spotlight more on the crew chief than the team than maybe it was in the past? "I think the spotlight is more there in the media, but I think it's always been there. Everybody in this garage knows that it's a team effort. There's not one person that you're going to bring in to any individual team here that's going to make a major difference. It's all about the team atmosphere and what Joe Gibbs has done and how he's restructuring and kind of moving some things around, making the right moves. I think that proves that is a team effort in what he wants to do and try to make things out there for performance."
Does your son know he has to cheer for the 11 team now? "Yeah, he does. We've already got him a few new Matchbox cars at home. He likes to play with the 11 car now. Denny Hamlin is his new favorite for sure."
Is it a better fit for you having Dave Rogers on your team, who also has an engineering background? "I think there's a little bit to that. Definitely Dave (Rogers, 18 crew chief) see a lot more eye to eye on things because we kind of talk the same language on some stuff already. But, Jason Ratcliff coming in is more of a car guy and we definitely try to exploit that. He knows the cars probably better than either of us because he's more directly tied to them over the last few years. So, it's an interesting aspect that we want to have all of those aspects in every communication that we have because I think you can make a better decision with the more input you have in those."
How do you get around having Denny Hamlin without a drafting partner during the two-car draft? "It's always about having the best people in the garage that you can work with because there can always be a scenario where a pit stop sequence or something is going to get you away from your partner so you just have to be able to have what's the best out there right now knowing you have the best ability to adjust to whatever the situation is. The two-car push is probably going to be how the winner is determined in the race, but the majority of the race is going to be more of the pack drafting from what we're seeing. It's going to be the ability to adapt and adjust and have the right guy at the right time."
How will the drivers not being able to talk to each other over the radio impact the racing? "I don't think it's going to really change things that much because we will just go back to the way we were used to doing it before. It might delay some things but I think it's going to be more fun for everybody because it's now more of the game that you have to play. It's actually a sport. There's no pre-determined guys that they're going to be working with. You're going to see spotters moving around the roof all of the time for who they have to be able to talk to."