One day after Denny Hamlin nearly lost control of the No. 11 Fed Ex Toyota at Atlanta Motor Speedway in first practice, he recovered with the fastest lap in Happy Hour — 172.640 mph (29.419-sec.).
After running 31 laps, Hamlin said during Saturday’s session his car was “a little tight (in the center), but overall it don’t feel bad.” Hamlin ran a total of 52 laps during practice.
Martin Truex Jr. was second quick with a lap of 188.226 mph (29.454-sec) followed by Jimmie Johnson (187.297 mph, 29.600-sec.), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (187.095 mph, 29.362.-sec.) and rookie Chase Elliott (186.963 mph, 29.653-sec), who ran 65 laps, the most of the 39 drivers.
After crew chief Greg Ives called for “all hands on deck” after first practice, Earnhardt said the changes to the No. 88 Chevy made his car “looser” but he felt “the balance was more consistent” overall midway through the session.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who was 13th quick, posted the fastest lap among the Ford camp — (29.909-sec.). Perhaps what was the most curious performance of practice came from last year’s polesitter Joey Logano, who qualified 26th on Friday and couldn’t break into the top 30 on Saturday’s speed chart. The top speed for the No. 22 Team Penske Ford was 182.886 mph.
Back to the status quo
Admittedly, Hamlin needed the opportunity to transition from restrictor plate racing to the new low downforce aerodynamic package NASCAR adopted for 2016.
“We obviously struggled a little bit the first practice, but we’ll go to work and it’s so early,” Hamlin said. I hadn’t tested or anything, run any car at any point from Homestead to right now on any kind of track other than a superspeedway.
“Trying to knock some rust off and the team is trying to get acclimated as well, so it will take a bit of a process. Not expecting it to happen overnight, but we’ve got some direction to go to.”
Hamlin, who is still recovering from a whirlwind tour as the Daytona 500 victor, admitted he was still a little sleep deprived.
“I got a few hours here and there,” Hamlin said. “I mean, gosh, maybe 24 hours total for the whole week if I had to guess, but it was fun traveling a bunch of states all over the place.
“The coolest part probably wouldn’t be what you think – I’m a huge fan of Highly Questionable, Dan Le Batard’s show. I liked going on that. That was my favorite part and the worst is just the mornings – the 5:00 a.m. stuff. For some people, 5:00 a.m. is a normal day. For myself, not so much, so that was a struggle.”