Denny Hamlin talks NASCAR ratings decline, Danica Patrick and sponsorship

Denny Hamlin has been one of the top NASCAR drivers of the past decade. He's also not afraid to speak his mind. 

The No. 11 driver -- preparing for the Cup Series playoff race at Talladega this weekend -- chatted with CBS Sports about a variety of topics ranging from declining ratings, the future of drivers like Danica Patrick and Matt Kenseth as well as what lies ahead for the sport. Hamlin also took the opportunity to clarify comments he made about NASCAR drivers deserving "NBA, NFL money."

Here's what he had to say:

Hamlin unveils new FedEx at Walgreens scheme for Martinsville race

Q: You unveiled your scheme for Martinsville later this year. I understand you'll be in a special No. 11 FedEx and Walgreens Toyota Camry for the race, all part of a special partnership between the two as FedEx plans to have pickup and drop off services at nearly 8,000 Walgreens locations by the end of the month. Would love to hear your thoughts on the scheme as well as the initiative.

A: "Yeah, I'm looking forward to it. Martinsville has been a great race track for us but to now have the FedEx at Walgreens paint scheme there, I'm always excited about special paint schemes, but then when you take it to my favorite track it definitely will be a great weekend. Hopefully we win with it, and this initiative is all about making it easier for the FedEx customers out there. Most people run errands and have to get something at pharmacies at Walgreens all the time. Now you're able to pick up and drop off your packages as well. Definitely makes things a lot easier for the people that need to get stuff done."

On Round of 12 opener and poor conditions at Charlotte

Q: Martinsville is the opener in the Round of 8. Right now you are contending in the Round of 12 and you have five wins at Martinsville but I want to backtrack just because we opened up the Round of 12 pretty good. You started on the pole at Charlotte and you finished in the top five (fourth). If you just want to talk about that race, what your takeaways were and the conditions on the track, too. I know we saw Kyle Busch, your (Joe Gibbs Racing) teammate, at the end of the race down on the side of pit road and I saw you tweeted something out that it was a heck of a day, a rough day at the office. Share your takeaways from that race.

A: "Yeah, it definitely was a hot one for sure. It definitely took a lot of people off guard for sure with how humid it was but really a lot of drivers were dehydrated, myself included, after that one for sure. I thought it was the hottest race of the year that we've had so far even though the outside temperature wasn't that hot. It was a tough one. That race is always long is distance as well so it was a challenge, for sure."

Q: Do you think that's something that NASCAR could fix or is that just part of the sport?

A: "You know it's part of it. Our cars run so low to the ground that there's not a whole lot of air traveling underneath the car that's able to cool it. It's just part of it."

Looking ahead to Sunday's race at Talladega Superspeedway

Q: Let's look ahead to this weekend now that we got Charlotte out of the way. We've got the big race at Talladega. You won there a few years back in 2014. You've run well at restrictor-plate tracks over the course of your career. How do you plan on getting back to Victory Lane on Sunday?

A: "Yeah, we're looking forward to getting to Talladega. It's been a really good track for me. I like that type of racing it's a lot of fun, however the stakes are a lot higher with all the playoff points that are available. Obviously we're to the good right now but it'll be hard to be in the good once we leave that track. It's one of those tracks you never know what can happen there's so many moving parts it's hard to predict or set a game plan forth that comes through, so we'll just do the best we can."

On how he can advance to Homestead and win the championship

Q: Well the best you can has been pretty good so far. Joe Gibbs Racing is no stranger to championships. You've been right there every year. What's it going to take for me and the other NASCAR fans to see you take the cup at Homestead in November?

A: "It'll be interesting for sure to see how it all plays out but you know we're in a type of format where winning trumps all. No matter how many points you are behind, if you're still in it you can win a race and move to the next round. So that's what we're looking to do is win, and if we can do that we'll punch our ticket to Homestead and take our chances there."

On why Danica Patrick and others can't find jobs for next season

Q: While we're talking about other champions, big-name drivers like Kurt Busch, your teammate Matt Kenseth and I even want to talk about Danica Patrick, right? I know the news about Landon Cassill came down (Tuesday) but a lot of blame has been going to (lack of) sponsorships. Do you think that's fair, and if so why are these popular drivers having such a tough time locking up deals for next year?

A: "Well I think it's extremely hard because these teams are so reliant on sponsorships to keep going. When they don't have the sponsorships, it's hard to pay your veterans and proven drivers so you just go younger and less expensive. I think that it's a very tough balance for these teams but hopefully everything works out that the deserving drivers get the rides that they should get."

On how much NASCAR drivers and teams should be paid

Q: Right, I mean we got two playoff drivers this year, it baffles me that they can't find a spot for next year. Hopefully they do and everything will turn out alright but while we're on the topic of money and sponsorships obviously last week you made some remarks regarding the distribution throughout NASCAR: the teams, drivers, all that. I want to give you the opportunity to clarify those comments for us and explain just exactly what you meant.

A: Basically what I meant is that I feel that the teams should be more healthy and that's kind of back to what I just told you is that these teams should be able to put in whatever driver they want. It shouldn't have to be totally sponsorship based. You want to put in the best available driver, not the one that brings in the most money or whichever one you could pay the least. So I think that that will be better long term for our sport but we continue to move forward. NASCAR continues to grow and we will deal with the chips as they fall.

On declining ratings throughout NASCAR and other sports

Q: You say NASCAR continues to grow and like you, I'm a diehard NASCAR fan. But there's a lot of people out there that don't really watch the sport and their argument, especially to your point, is that well ratings are down from say the NFL, the NBA. They say that's why the drivers don't earn as much and that's why there's not really an emphasis on the money there. We all have our opinions and I watched the race last week. I don't know if you saw the ratings but they were actually in line with last year's. It was the first time in a while where we didn't have a decline on NBC. I'm just curious, why do you think that, if you do think that, ratings are down in NASCAR and is there anything we can really do to change that?

A: "Well, I think ratings are down across every single sport and the reason is that people consume sports different than what they used to. It's not all on TV anymore. It's through Twitter. It's through live streaming and it's very hard to figure out the numbers in which you can quantify that. How many viewers really are watching? I think the way people consume is different and until they come up with a better way to analyze that, it's going to continue to be down and it has been down across all sports. When I compare NASCAR to other sports, you know there's a lot of baseball players that are making a lot of money. We crush baseball every week essentially on ratings. Each sport has it's own model. Racing costs more money to do for the race teams but I think when you look at the entire weekend and what sport event is at the highest level, NASCAR is one of the top two or three events every single weekend and even though it's down it's still one of the highest viewed and every week."

Q: Do you think that there's a direct correlation in having races on premium networks that people have to pay a little bit extra money for as opposed to putting it on (broadcast TV)? Do you think there's a correlation between the ratings and the amount of exposure that the sport is getting between those networks?

A: "Well, I think that there's somewhat that but I think that when NASCAR signed the deal a long time ago they knew that quite a few races were going to go onto relatively unproven networks or new upstart networks whether it be FS1 or NBC Sports Network. Even with the building of those networks I still believe that we still have a large bulk of our audience that continues to tune in but certainly the more primetime network racing we have, the better off the races certainly would be."

On how to capture the next generation of NASCAR fans

Q: How do you think that we're going to engage new NASCAR fans? What are we going to do to make sure we have that next generation of NASCAR fan come into play here?

A: "Well, obviously that's why we signed with Monster Energy. They're a galvanizing brand that attracts lot of young people. I think getting the young kids to the races for the first time, that's where it all starts. Moms and dads need to take their kids to the races and let them enjoy it because essentially that's where I grew up loving racing. I went to a race track from the first time when I was 5 years old and I loved it. So that's what I decided that I wanted to do and I worked hard at it and got to the level that I'm at now. The more that we can engage the young fan the better off we'll be."

On penalties and wins being taken away

Q: I'll tell you one thing for sure me and you both share the same love and passion for NASCAR and another thing I want to get to you on is penalties. You and Joey Logano both saw wins become encumbered this season given you were docked the bonus points that really could have helped you out in this round and the next round. And Logano even lost a shot at the cup. You know in the NFL, the NBA, MLB as we were talking about other sports before there are penalties going around but you never hear of wins being taken away. Do you think NASCAR goes too far with these sorts of things?

A: "Not really, and if anyone should say it's unfair it's me, but I prefer them. As long as they do it consistently, right? You don't want you being called by 10-thousandths of an inch on your rear end housing and then somebody else getting away with deliberately putting something on their car to help them aerodynamically and getting no penalty. I think that some judgment has got to be used there, but as long as they call it fair for everyone then I'm OK with it."

On whether or not Toyotas have an advantage on the track

Q: I think it's a feeling out process too you know especially with these encumbered wins it's something that we're just really starting to hear of. While we're on the topic of cars and adjustments and everything, people have been vocal -- Brad Keselowski especially -- about the Toyotas being so dominant. You've had the experience of really being that first team to make the jump to Toyota from the beginning of your career to now. How has your experience with Toyota been and do you believe there is a significant advantage in driving one?

A: "I think that there's no unearned advantage for sure. NASCAR never gave us anything. We just developed our car and right now of course we're performing at a high level. But it goes in a circle every single year, right? You know at the beginning of the year Toyotas were terrible and everyone was talking about how bad we were and now the second half of the year it's not fair because we're too good. It's all cynical and you just kind of brush it off. The other teams are going to get better. They have gotten better. They Hendrick Motorsports team especially the 24 has gone from running 15th most weeks to contending for race wins every week in the playoffs. Do they get an unfair advantage? You'll hear the accusations going the other way."

On the future of the sport

Q: This is what I love about the sport because it's so competitive in that listen if you ask me my personal opinion, I'm not in the garage every week but I don't think it does give an advantage. I just think like you said nothing is unearned and I love the conversation, I love the dialogue. It's good to see a guy like Chase Elliott come up and not win some races but really finish in the top five consistently the past few weeks with the Chevrolets. Then you got the Fords at the top with Stewart-Haas Racing and Kevin Harvick. You guys in the Toyota, you, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. I think it's a really good part of the sport. My dad's generation grew up with the Dale Earnhardts, the Dale Jarretts, Richard Petty. I grew up with you, Tony Stewart, Busch. Which of these newcomers coming up here do you think will be that (driver) for the next wave of NASCAR fans?

A: NASCAR's a great sport and I love being a part of it. I think that our sport definitely has a lot of great years ahead of it and there's so many young guys that are about to take over the sport from the guys that are retiring. So I just think that we've got a lot of good things ahead of us and I'm looking forward to seeing it.

Q: Denny, I really appreciate having you on here at CBS Sports. It means a lot to our fans and the people who come to our site to hear what you have to say about everything from the playoffs, to your new scheme to everything else going on around (NASCAR).

A: Yup, thank you!

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