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Minter: Denny’s Is A Popular Place For Media

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, November 20 2009
Denny Hamlin celebrates his victory at Martinsville last month. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Denny Hamlin celebrates his victory at Martinsville last month. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

Somewhere along the way over the last year or two, there’s been a refreshing change in Denny Hamlin.

Hamlin, who turned 29 this month, has become far more cooperative as far as working with the print media is concerned. He’s been approachable, refreshingly honest with his answers and as cooperative as they come in the Cup garage.

Earlier in the year, at Talladega Superspeedway, he stayed late after most of his peers left to discuss with reporters his failings at his home track of Richmond International Raceway, where he went on to win later in the year.

And during a tire test at Atlanta Motor Speedway, several drivers on hand declined to meet with the media during the noon-time break, but Hamlin  – along with Kurt Busch – volunteered his time. Hamlin wound up staying until the cars were fired to resume the test.

He has been publicly – and presumably privately – supportive of his team even in the face of mechanical issues that knocked him out of the title hunt. He also shouldered the blame for his driving error at California that wrecked his car and his points total.

Hamlin has been involved in some controversy too.

He’s been vocal about what he sees as overly aggressive driving by Brad Keselowski, and last week at Phoenix he spoke out about the recent race at Talladega, where the push drafting he’d perfected was outlawed just prior to the start of the race.

He said he let his fans know through Twitter just how he felt about the Talladega race, and in the process he also learned a lot about what fans were thinking.

Some might interpret his comments as those of a poor loser, but at worst he’s having dialogue about a subject important to fans.

“You don’t really get a good idea or feel for what the fans think until you sit through several thousand people that have responses [about] what they think about a race or how it goes or what have you,” he said. “I think those fans deserve to be heard…They weren’t happy. As much as you can try to brush it under the table, they didn’t like what happened at Talladega by any means.  So I was just kind of agreeing with them.”

He said that’s not the case with many of his peers.

“A lot of people just kind of agree with NASCAR just because they don’t want to get in trouble with NASCAR, but the truth is the truth and that’s about it,” he said. “What’s got to be done, nobody knows yet, but something does, and I think everyone is starting to recognize that the fans are speaking out and I’m just agreeing with them.”

Hamlin also claimed that Jeff Gordon successfully lobbied NASCAR to limit push drafting in the turns, not so much for safety reasons, but for competitive reasons.

“[Gordon] made comments that his car didn’t push well so ultimately he’s going to lobby to NASCAR saying we don’t need to push,” Hamlin said. “Why?  Because his car doesn’t push well.  [Pushing] is an advantage that I feel like I’ve gained over the last couple of years, and I just kind of had it taken away basically right before the race.”

He said he’d like to see NASCAR officials seeking his opinion on similar matters in the future, and he said he does bring things to their attention on occasion. He indicated that his comments don’t often carry a lot of weight and acknowledged that the best way to get more influence is to build his credentials, especially on the track.

But Hamlin said the sport’s decision makers need to hear from the younger set too.

“You need to look at the guys that are going to be in the sport for the next 10 to 15 years and maybe their opinion should also be just as important,” he said. “I agree with respect to the elders in that sense but also let’s get the opinions of the guys that are going to have to drive these cars for years and years to come.”

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, November 20 2009
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