The series of 12 Questions interviews continues this week with Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing. Hamlin is currently seventh in the point standings. This interview was conducted at Daytona and is available both in podcast and written form.
1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?
It’s probably 75 percent natural ability. I think 25 of it you can refine by just doing it and studying at it.
2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and now Dale Earnhardt Jr. have all either retired in the last couple years or will retire soon. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?
I really don’t have a pitch. You like me if you like me; if you don’t, then you don’t. I’m a true, old-school short-track racer. Got here the old fashioned way, just like all those guys did. So why not me?
3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?
I don’t really consider my job hard on the racetrack or off the racetrack. It’s everything that I’ve really hoped it would be. The hardest part is just the time away from home.
4. Let’s say a fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?
They can. I don’t think I’ve really turned anyone down that’s approached me about an autograph. Doesn’t mean necessarily it’s OK or I like it or I encourage it, but I definitely never would turn anyone away.
5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?
I think the pit crews and how much of athletes they are gets a little bit of coverage, but we see within the race teams how all the pit crews rank, even individual positions. I think the TV or the media hasn’t seen before who has the fastest jack man on pit road, who has the fastest tire carrier, who has the faster tire changer. All those stats are available, but you never see them.
Are those stats kept by the teams? How would I get those?
I don’t know. Someone high up probably has them. But I’ve seen them.
6. Who is the last driver you texted?
Can you tell us what it was about?
We were actually talking about the refs. He thinks that things are getting pretty physical in his basketball league, so he’s asking whether he thinks my refs (in Hamlin’s “Hoop Group” league) could possibly control that or not.
7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?
Yeah, absolutely. I think that we’re entertainers — we’re more than just race car drivers. I mean, we go to autograph sessions and fan fests and do Q&A’s and things like that, so absolutely I would say we’re in the entertainment business.
8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?
I used to give it a lot, but I don’t necessarily anymore because it bothers me when I get it. I stick my hand out when I’m frustrated, but I try to keep it at five fingers instead of one now.
That’s very gentlemanly of you.
I’ve never been called that before.
9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?
I do. There’s handfuls of drivers that have cut me breaks more than once. Yeah, absolutely. You know who those guys are and you repay them.
10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?
Are you talking about one-on-one or with a group?
It can be in a group. The great thing about this question is that so many people this year have never really had dinner with that famous of a person, but you, on the other hand, have had so many famous dinners you actually have to go through and think about who’s the most famous one.
You have to put it in a category. I would say in a very small group, probably eight people or so, with the Kardashians and Lord Disick (Scott Disick).
What!? When was this?
This was at the grand opening of Butter (Hamlin’s former nightclub), probably six years ago.
So Kim herself came? Did anyone else come?
Kourtney, Khloe and the Lord.
What were they like?
Pretty quiet for the most part, but I don’t know. You could just tell they were a little uncomfortable in the beginning, but they kinda got into their groove by the end of the night.
11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?
Geez, there’s so many things. What I’d like to improve: my eating habits.
What’s wrong with those?
I’ve got a bad sugar tooth. I could eat until I’m about to explode. Like I eat a lot, and then I’ll still want something sweet at the end of the night. I have a bad problem with that.
12. The last question was from Ryan Blaney. Now, Denny, I am under strict instructions not to give you any context with this. I doubled back with him just this morning and said, “Are you sure you want me to ask it like this?” And he said, “Yes.” So I’m sorry.
Did he know it’s to me?
No, he just wanted me to ask this very awkward question to a driver. I figured you could deal with it. So are you ready?
OK, I’m ready.
Who shot first?
(Long silence) This is coming from Blaney, right? Who shot first? (Pause) He did.
I don’t know if that’s the correct answer, but —
I’ll change it, I’ll change it: I did.
You did? OK, that’s definitely the wrong answer. You should just go with “He did.” But it’s a Star Wars reference.
Oh, he’s such a dork. You know what? They can’t sell to the public how awesome Blaney is if he keeps coming up with this Star Wars dork stuff. Like seriously, he’s gotta, you know… Ugh. I need to have a talk with Blaney because this is just not the road he needs to go down.
You may have to do that after this. It was apparently a reference to, have you seen the original Star Wars?
No, I’ve never seen it. I’m not a sci-fi guy. I’ve seen a couple of episodes of Star Trek when I was a kid. That was when my dad was watching it.
I don’t know who the next interview is going to be with. Do you have a question that I might be able to ask the next driver? Please don’t make it as awkward as the Blaney one was.
I have one. (Laughs) What I ask is that you interview someone who has at least six to seven years of Cup experience. And what I want know is: Of the teammates they have worked with, I wanna know who their favorite was. And the other side of that, and they have to be honest: Who is the worst that they’ve ever worked with?