NASCAR Cup Series
Denny Hamlin 1-on-1: 'I feel pretty strong' about championship chances
NASCAR Cup Series

Denny Hamlin 1-on-1: 'I feel pretty strong' about championship chances

Published May. 23, 2024 10:54 a.m. ET

No Denny Hamlin conversation is complete with a question on whether this is the year he will win his first Cup title.

So yes, that's part of this piece.

But there's more than that, starting with NASCAR's announcement last week of an in-season tournament that will run over the five-race TNT portion of the schedule — a bracket-type system that Hamlin devised for his podcast fans last year and is doing again this year.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver and 23XI Racing co-owner also talked with FOX Sports about the season, staying consistently strong and this weekend's Coca-Cola 600, the longest race on the NASCAR schedule:


It looks like you convinced NASCAR — did NASCAR take your idea for the bracket?

Yeah, probably. But it's fine. It's good. I think the industry benefits from something like that. Certainly, there'll be a lot of a lot of stakeholders benefit from the storylines that come out of it. 

Should a playoff spot be linked to it?

No. They already give out too many playoff spots as it is.

It could be just one of the 16, just like the regular-season champ, if you don't get a race win, gets in?

Yeah, I get it. The sample size is just too small, especially with some of the tracks that they have for seeding and whatnot, I think that's going to get things kind of a little out of whack to begin with. So let it be its own thing for sure.

Our Clint Bowyer during a prerace show a few weeks ago cornered you to say that this is going to be your year to win the title. So I'm curious. Is this going to be your year? Do you still feel that way? 

I feel pretty strong about our chances for sure. Certainly, it is a little different when you get put under the gun like that. But, you know, until I feel differently, then I'll let you know.

Are you saying Clint is a tougher questioner or an interviewer than race-car driver?

I think TV Clint is trying to find some drama.

The 600 is coming up. Is that race tougher than others with an extra 100 miles?

I wouldn't say it's tougher from a physical standpoint. It probably is for pit crew guys that probably pit the car more — certainly a lot of emphasis on that. Mentally, probably, the race is so long to begin with and I just think when you have to grind through it and your car is such on edge at that racetrack anyway, you've got that extra 100 miles, there's just more opportunities to mess up.

Some drivers struggle or some drivers tend to be inconsistent with this car. It sounds like the margin of error is so small. How come you're more consistent than others?

I would say that I am. But I'm not also. If we look at the average finish of the Gen-6 car, I think we ended 2021 with a 9-average finish. And that immediately went up to like 15. And then it's 12. And we're working our way back down. But certainly, I feel as though we're as consistent as anyone. But when you make a mistake, whether it be on pit road or whatever, you're not going to be able to come back from that like you used to be able to before. So it puts a big emphasis on the driver to make sure he has a clean race with no mistakes.

Of course, you have all the data.

Of course.

What was it that triggered you to be so data-driven?

It's the way sports is nowadays. You have to use numbers to your advantage. And when you're trying to find little margins here and there, you've got to find a way to stand out and be different. And to do that, you have to find out where your weaknesses are -- and a lot of times that comes through data.

Being a co-owner of 23XI, is it any more easier or harder now than it was when you started 23XI in 2021 to do that and drive for somebody else?

I would say it's about the same as it's been — I really haven't had any conflicts of interest except for maybe one time at Daytona last year. But really, for the most part, the two teams work really, really well together. They're like, brothers, essentially. It's been working well. And as long as we keep that relationship tight, it's going to continue to be easy to do.

You have your fan day today at 23XI. So what do you hope they see at your new shop?

Really making sure that it's employee-driven, making sure we have strong amenities for the employees that work so hard to make this show happen each and every week. Giving the drivers places to get better, opportunities and room to just relax and have fun at times and other places where you're going to be in your workspace and obviously have different seating options for your seating workplace. Sometimes sitting in the same chair for six, eight hours a day gets monotonous. Making sure I gave the employees the ability and freeness to work anywhere they want to within the building.

Do you wish the playoffs started tomorrow with the way your season is going?

It's an opportunity over the next few months for teams to catch up. There's a limit on how much they can catch up because all the tolerances are so tight on the car. But obviously, I feel like we can continue to get better and better as the season goes on as well.

Denny Hamlin on season outlook, peaking too early and new in-season tournament

Is there any part of you that worries that you're peaking too early this season?

No such thing. There's no such thing as peaking early because right now there's 17 or 18 playoff points that we've got in our pocket. So we'll continue to take all those that we can get leading into the playoffs

Do you feel like there are areas you guys can work on? Teams that are behind are always looking at so many areas? When Jimmie Johnson won five titles from 2006-2010, they'd fall behind and then catch up?

He still won five straight titles. That's the only caveat to it is he still found a way because his team was strong and he was strong. Strong teams, strong drivers will still find a way to have an advantage over the rest of the field and eventually catch up. If you're always trying to catch up, you're not advancing most times past whoever the leader is. And, certainly, if you feel like you're one of the leaders, you still feel like there's margins in which you can get better — and certainly we have some.

Is the podcast still fun?

Yes, it is still fun. Certainly, it's informative. I see it through a different lens now as I look through drivers' comments, making sure I am informed after each and every race. I've always been kind of curious of where drivers stand on things. But having to break down incidents that you see between competitors, and sometimes you have to pick a side — that part becomes a little difficult. But it's just part of the business and certainly feel like it's continuing to grow into a really good audience and something that I still enjoy doing.

Are drivers starting to call you and say, "Why did you say this?" 

No. There's going to be some weeks where you're going to get praised. And other weeks where you're going to get called out. But I do the same thing to myself.

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including over 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass.


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