Hamlin talks hoops, Daytona 500, fatherhood

BY foxsports • January 24, 2013

CHARLOTTE – Denny Hamlin looked out across the Time Warner Cable
Arena an hour before Wednesday’s Hawks-Bobcats game as the players and
the Lady Cats cheerleaders went through their pregame routines, Guns N’
Roses’ Welcome to The Jungle blaring through the speakers.

The
NASCAR star settled in front of a camera, the logo for the Daytona 500
filling the jumbotron behind him as he filmed a series of promos and a Hawks LIVE interview with Andre Aldridge.

He
was there to discuss his driving in the Great American Race, which airs
Feb. 24 on FOX, along with a connection to the Bobcats, which is
evident in both his personal and professional life.

“[I’ve] definitely got a lot of ties [to the Bobcats],” he said.

Hamlin attended his first game in 2007 at the invitation of someone with courtside seats and was immediately hooked.

“I
had watched basketball only a little bit on TV, never been to a game in
person,” he said. “But ever since then I was like ‘Wow, this is a whole
different experience when get down here how physical the game is and
fueled my passion for basketball I haven’t had since really I was a
teenager.”

He became a season-ticket holder the following year
and would go on to meet a pair of Jordans: his girlfriend, former Lady
Cat, Jordan Fish and Hall of Famer and Bobcats owner Michael Jordan.

Hamlin
and Fish welcomed their first child -- daughter Taylor James Hamlin was
born on Jan. 20 – and Michael Jordan, who divulged to Hamlin that he
watches every Sprint Cup race, has his iconic Jumpman logo on Hamlin’s
firesuit.

“I asked him, ‘Hey, what do you think about a Jordan
Brand firesuit,’” Hamlin said. “He loved the idea and he called up his
people to get it done and obviously that’s where it all started.”

Before taking his seat for the game Hamlin made an appearance on the Bobcats LIVE set opposite Stephanie Ready, the concourse behind them bustling with fans as tip-off neared.

Hamlin
was given a gift in a blue bag with orange tissue paper inside –
Bobcats colors – and as he walked from the set I asked him what was
inside.

“A Bobcats onesie,” he said, smiling as he produced the navy blue shirt with the team logo.

***

Already, Hamlin is seeing the possibilities the newest evolution of the Sprint Cup car presents.

Increased
down force. More grip. After two tests in the Gen 6 car -- which
replaces the Car of Tomorrow – at Daytona International Speedway and
Charlotte Motor Speedway, Hamlin expects to see lap times drop
dramatically.

“We’re going to be running record speeds at every
track we run at this year,” he said. “It’s exciting from that
standpoint, but it’s going to be interesting to see what happens when
you get 43 cars out there. How are they going to react to each other?”

It’s
a car that many expect to bring and end to the tandem racing that, to
the chagrin of many fans and drivers, defined the restrictor-plate races
of late, and bring a return to the pack racing of old.

When
Hamlin climbs into his No. 11 Toyota at Daytona, he’ll also be doing it
with a new teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing in Matt Kenseth. The 2003 series
champion and winner of 24 races, Kenseth left Roush Fenway Racing after
13 years to move to JGR, where he takes over the No. 20 from Joey
Logano (who is now at Penske Racing).

“He’s got so much
experience, he’s won the Daytona 500 more than once, he’s got his
championship, so to me he’s going to be a reliable source,” Hamlin said.
“The thing is that our three-car team, we never had all of our cars
running up front at the same time, where we could use information from
both Kyle (Busch) and Joey.

“Now we have a guy we know is going
to make the Chase, who we know is going to be up front, so I think he’s
going to make our race team better.”

For Hamlin, the goal is clear, and so is the path.

He’s
made the Chase every year since moving to Cup full-time in ’06 and has
finished second (’10) and third (’06) in the points, but a title has
eluded him. Hamlin believes if he can win at least six races and post
18-19 top-5 finishes and 23-24 top-10s, he should be in the running for a
title when the series hits Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 17.

“For
us, every year is championship or nothing,” he said. “So I know exactly
in my head what we need to be a championship contender. We’re taking it
seriously and we need to capitalize on these championship runs that
we’re making.”

***
Hamlin took his seat minutes before the
Hawks and Bobcats introductions. It’s a courtside vantage point directly
next to the visitor’s bench that has allowed him earlier this season to
take a picture with the Knicks’ J.R. Smith, but he won’t be riling up
the Bobcats’ competition.

“No,” he said. “The other team’s coach is sitting right by me.”

With
5:16 remaining in the first quarter Hamlin joined the Bobcats
announcing team of Steve Martin and Dell Curry before sitting in with
the Hawks duo of Bob Rathbun and Dominique Wilkins. Along with
discussing Daytona, Hamlin said he offered up his own in-game analysis.

“I just said Atlanta was playing big, so we should be able to run on them,” Hamlin said.

The
Bobcats took his advice, cutting the Hawks’ lead to seven points with
5:40 left in the game but after a Johan Petro three-pointer and a Josh
Smith jumper, Atlanta was back in charge and en route to a 104-92
victory.

Hamlin disclosed that this was the longest he had been
away since the birth of his daughter and when asked if he was excited to
get back to them, he quickly responded “Yeah, definitely.”

The new father went home bearing a gift, one that came wrapped in a color scheme that looms large in his new family.


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