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1-on-1 with NASCAR's Denny Hamlin: Coca-Cola 600 win is his career's 'highest priority'

Alex Andrejev, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Auto Racing

DH: The on-track product has been the same. I think inside the race car for those two or three hours, I haven't noticed any differences. The biggest thing for me is the before and the after. It's just the silence. There are no people. You don't feel the energy. The energy comes from within for me to try to go out there and perform. So as soon as I crank the car up, it's game on. NASCAR has done a good job of showcasing what we've got on TV and the other stuff people don't see when they're not at the racetrack has not been a big deal, so (it's) pretty awesome the way it turned out.

AA: After Kevin Harvick won the first race back, he said the (celebration) felt pretty awkward afterward, and (Wednesday's) race ended abruptly. Was there anything like that? Did you even go to Victory Lane?

DH: No, we didn't. Everything was different, and I knew it was different from when I got out of my race car after Sunday's race. I finished fifth, Harvick wins. He's out on the front stretch, pulls around, comes to pit road, and we walked back to the motorhome lot talking. I'm like, 'You don't have anything to do?' And he's like, 'No, they just said to go back to my bus and do some Zoom calls.' So that's kinda how it's all been, and I'm getting a taste of it now. Certainly it's been a change, but I think like anything, we're creatures of habit and this is something that as we do it a little bit more over the next few weeks, it should become second nature.

AA: How do you feel about the schedule having so many races packed into such a short amount of time?

DH: I like it personally. We're making up some dates and races that we were going to have to cancel otherwise. With no other major sports on TV right now, it's an opportunity for us to kind of showcase our sport in front of a bigger audience and kind of own the week per se. If you love racing, you're getting a race nearly every day or every other day here for the next few weeks, so you should love it. And we're seeing that more and more people that have never tuned in to NASCAR before are tuning in, so we're excited. Obviously, we've got a big race ahead of us this weekend in the Coke 600. It's a race that's the highest priority for me to win in my career. (My sponsor) FedEx is promoting $1 million in grants to small businesses. This is a big week for us so we want to go out there and check that one off the resume.

AA: In terms of viewership, NASCAR's had a bigger audience than Michael Jordan in "The Last Dance." I saw on Twitter that you had a conversation with him after the race. What'd he say?

 

DH: He texts me all the time congratulating me when I win a race or telling me I need to do better when I need to do better. He is that motivator for sure. I told him that meant a lot to me watching "The Last Dance" and seeing the story with him and his father. I didn't know a whole lot about his dad, but through my conversations with him when we'd go out and play golf or whatever, I asked him, 'Where'd your passion come from for racing?' He said (his) dad used to take (him) to Darlington every year to the races, and he said that he watched the cars go around and felt the engines roaring, and that just fueled his passion for racing, and he's loved it ever since.

AA: Did you talk after (Wednesday's) race?

DH: Yeah, what we were talking about was how awesome it was to win at the track that his dad used to take him to.

AA: Did he have any comments on your mask?

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