Interview: It’s been a week for Denny Hamlin

Denny Hamlin talks with this writer on the eve of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season. “My life is a mess. I just look at my daily schedule and all the things I have to do, and I know the big story with a lot of people in the last year has been, ‘Well, how are you going to balance being an owner versus doing your job as a driver?’ You know, all of this made me focus even more.”

According to his words, July was a month of chaos for Hameln. Indeed, M&M’s 400 fan appreciation last weekend at Pocono Raceway was a grueling affair on a range of levels for FedEx Toyota’s #11 driver Joe Gibbs Racing, as he found himself caught up in a racing accident with steady rival Ross Chastain. If that wasn’t enough, shortly after flashing down the finish line at Pocono with what appeared to be his 49th cup victory, word came from NASCAR that Hamlin was disqualified for having a few pieces of tape 2 inches wide, 5 inches long and thick 0.012 inch on his car’s lower fascia.

Factor in the recent announcement that Hamlin’s 23XI Racing team has hired exciting young driver Tyler Reddick for the 2024 Cup season, and it’s easy to see that the 18-year-old veteran NASCAR driver was a man in the middle of it all.

Q: You talked recently about having a match under the 23XI Racing team. Is that how you feel?

Denny Hamlin: I do that. I really feel like these guys are starting to run really well and be consistent, and that’s really all I was hoping for right from the start. I wanted to show some ability to improve and I think they do. Bubba and Kurt were driving their car forward. That was the downside I feel that this team has struggled (in the past) – when adversity hit them, they didn’t always get back to that level well. But in the last few weeks the team picked it up and that was the medium.

Q: You mentioned that you feel Toyota has some work to do when it comes to short track and road racing. TRUE?

DH: Yeah, that’s where Toyotas really need to get better and I feel like the show we had in New Hampshire was really a really good show for our teams, because that’s the track we’re sort of on par with Phoenix where we go to race for the championship. We need to run well on those kinds of tracks. I’d say we were light years better in New Hampshire than we were in Phoenix, another one-mile trail, so, overall, I feel we’re good; We started honing on the short tracks. Now, courses on the road are still a question mark. We should get better at those, but overall, it looks like Toyotas in general are all beginning to make headway.

Q: Right after I watched you click the last few laps to win the Pocono, I took my daughter to the beach to go surfing. When we got home, I found out that you had been stripped of your race win. It’s been nearly 60 years since NASCAR did this…

DH: They’re really trying to get our feet on this new car and make sure we don’t mess with any areas that we shouldn’t be messing about. Much of it is because of the business of it all. They are trying to help us help ourselves and not spend ridiculous money on these cars for development. This way we can make this a viable business. What happened was just confusion with our team. When they pulled the casing back, the crew chief in particular was like, ‘Um, what is this? I’ve never seen that before. So it was definitely a shock to us. I think overall, if this is another year but this year with this new car , you would never have heard of this before. It would have been so small that NASCAR would have said, “Just don’t do that again.” That’s always the case.

Two pieces of masking tape erased this past weekend Pocono win books. motorsports pictures

Q: So NASCAR used the offense to set an example for others?

DH: Yes.

Q: You and Ross Chastain re-entered the Pocono by 18 laps. Will you guys be able to put all this behind you?

DH: (stops). I mean, we’ll see. I’d hate to give a definitive answer there. Obviously, I know that I definitely feel wronged a few times with him. Certainly this incident in Pocono was kind of a racing incident where I didn’t leave any space for it. I didn’t meet him, I didn’t let him go anywhere (Laughter). I left him with no options. I don’t know… We’ll play things by ear from now on. It doesn’t matter who he is or what he is – for me it’s just a principle, you know? I’m a little upset about losing the regular season title last year to Kyle Larson because we were knocked out of the Indy road race by Chase Briscoe. Then we got Alex Bowman to Martinsville with five laps left when we should have won this race. This result could have led us to the fourth final. There has been a lot of bubbling about this which only added to my frustration. All this raw stuff has just been added to it.

Q: You are eighth in NASCAR Cup Series points and on solid ground in terms of the playoffs. How do you feel about where you are as we approach August?

DH: I feel good about that. I mean, it was obviously a pretty big supplement score swing for us where instead of getting five points, we gave that to a competitor and we don’t like that in any way. But yeah, we’re running hard and my crew is starting to make a lot of headway, so I definitely love where I’m at.

Q: And you guys are going to have Tyler Riddick climb the 23XI Racing come 2024?

DH: Yeah, we’re really excited and excited about Tyler. There are franchise drivers who come every two decades and this is one of them. I am very confident of that. If you ask his peers, and you can ask Kyle Larson, and you can ask anyone who’s racing against him and they’ll say, “Man, it’s really, really, really good.” I know I’ve had a text message from several other car owners saying, “Dang, you really fell someone with this guy!” I’m very happy. And not only am I happy to have him, but I am also happy that he chose us in 23XI Racing. This gives me a lot of confidence in our future and where we are going.

I mean, we’re in the process of building. You said it would take five years for us to compete for a championship and we are in 1.5 years now. We’re going to beat that schedule, so I think we just have to keep the horse on track. I really think we are going to be a team that wins a lot of races and competes for championships every year in the very near future.

It’s another season and a half before Tyler Riddick races the 23XI colors, but Hamlin is confident it’s worth the wait. motorsports pictures

Q: And does Kurt Bosch do everything you want him to do?

DH: It is. I mean, Kurt has been a rock star to us. He was very good at doing everything we asked of him and obviously we’re just trying to stay healthy at this point. He had some bumps and lumps here early in the season which exacerbated some of those issues. Our first focus is trying to make him as healthy as possible. We represent to keep him healthy as he is the anchor that keeps the team together.

Q: How are you looking for a road race at Brickyard this weekend?

DH: I think we need to set modest goals with the road courses this year. Sonoma was a disaster, to say the least. We all did really bad there. At Road America, we’ve all moved forward. I thought we had two or three cars that were good enough to run the top 15. Two of them were on the edge of the top 10. Now we need to move that bar down a little bit and say, ‘OK, now we can get two or three cars inside the top 10.’ It takes It’s a process to get the best out of these racetracks.While we want to go out and win, and that he is The goal is when we’re done, we have to be honest with ourselves and say, “If we run in the top 10, we’ve made progress.”