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Hamlin adapting to dad role
Denny Hamlin looks like a new father — a mixture of excitement, wonder and fatigue.
His daughter, Taylor James Hamlin, was born Sunday night. While Hamlin, his girlfriend Jordan Fish and little daughter are doing fine, they are also adjusting to a new life — something that has briefly consumed Hamlin’s attention and perhaps put a championship run a little deeper in his thoughts for a few days.
Hamlin, who says that James is his first name and a family name, said that so far being a father has been easier than expected. In fact, the toughest part seems to have been sweating out the four days extra she waited to join the family.
Hamlin skipped the testing of the Generation 6 car at Charlotte Motor Speedway last week as he waited for his daughter’s birth.
“That was the biggest thing was being four days late," Hamlin said. "It’s like, ‘OK, it’s coming in a minute. Any minute, any minute.'”
As to deciding to miss the test, that was an easy call — he wanted to stay by Fish’s side.
“I felt like it was more important not to leave her at any point,” he said.
He said his and Fish’s parents have been on hand to help out and that he’s not losing that much sleep yet since Taylor James is sleeping quite a bit.
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Still, he’s already clearly in awe of being a parent.
“The experience is great,” he said. “It’s just your outlook changes on when you have to leave home, when you have to get home, and things like that of how excited you are to pull into the driveway knowing you get to see your daughter.”
While there haven’t been any big surprises so far, his daughter is already clearly having a major impact.
“Nothing can prepare you for that,” he said. “It’s been definitely an eye-opening week as far as life’s perspective.”
Not only has becoming a father changed his world view, it could also play a role in his racing this season.
Crew chief Darian Grubb says that Hamlin becoming a parent gives them another bond. Team president J.D. Gibbs and owner Joe Gibbs see an even larger potential impact.
Joe Gibbs has long watched drivers becoming dads and sees a change in them all.
“I think it makes you aware of some things and probably changes your attitude on some things,” Joe Gibbs said. “The first time you’ve got kids, you’ve got responsibilities, how much you care for them and you think more about the future than you do right now. So I think it’s a maturing process and probably, I think it probably helps settle them down some.”
Meanwhile, his son, J.D., has been offering Hamlin some friendly advice.
“I said, ‘Look, here’s all the things I’ve done as a Dad that were horrible. Don’t do these.’ And the first thing I said is just do whatever your better half tells you to do,” he said with a laugh. “I think what is neat for him, I asked Jordan, I said, ‘How has he been?’ and she said, ‘He’s been great.’
“He really wants to do it and he’s trying ... I think for him, my hope is that kind of transfers over here, some maturity and some leadership. He has a gift behind the wheel for sure and I think that will help out.”
That maturing process is something Grubb has already seen. He said he saw it last offseason when Hamlin went to Phoenix and focused on golf to get away from things. He’s seen it even more as Hamlin prepared to be a dad.
“You see that maturity and the change in him of becoming a father,” Grubb said. “Right now all we see is the red eyes and the bags under his eyes and the lack of sleep, but we’re hoping it really translates into, you see the deep love and passion he has for Taylor James and it’s really cool to be able to see that and have one more thing to have in common with him.”
Advice has come in many forms, but Hamlin says that each family is different and he and Fish will find their own way to handle raising their daughter on the road.
First, though, he’ll have to leave them behind for a little while. Hamlin says that Daytona would be too soon to take his daughter to the track — and admits that going to Speedweeks will be tough.
But, like a new dad, he’s already found something in that to look forward to.
"Leaving the house for sure will be hard,” he said. “I have solace in knowing that in just a few months I’ll be able to see her all the time, every day.”