DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing

How was yesterday’s practice session? “It was a long day. It was good to get some track time here. These guys are all really good. They figure it out in about 20 minutes or so. Obviously, with a long test day like that you are able to tune on some stuff hopefully for future mile-and-ahalf race tracks.”

Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

Photo by: Ashley Dickerson, ASP Inc.

Could the bumps on the track determine the race outcome? “Last night was a prime example. Anybody that restarted on the bottom was done. You could not do anything at all. Passing was nearly impossible unless you made it really on the high side. So, it is rough. It’s really, honestly, like two different race tracks from one groove to the next. We struggled to get over the bumps just like everyone else yesterday. But, I think we got it better as the day went on. It’s still going to be very, very hard. You’re going to have to be a lot faster than a guy to clear him if you’re going to pass him on the bottom.”

Could the bumps dictate positioning on the race track? “They’ll take the outside all day tomorrow, for sure. Whoever is the pole-sitter is going to choose the outside and every guy who restarts first is going to be on the outside. And, whoever is second on the inside is going to have a huge disadvantage and probably move backwards.”

How does the first half of this season compare to other years? “I think it’s been relatively normal in that sense. It seems like first-time winners is always on superspeedways, especially it’s kind of up for grabs, and you find different guys that get in the win column there. Obviously, fuel mileage races. All that stuff that races are starting to be nowadays it opens it up to a lot of different guys to be able to win. So, I think that it’s relatively normal in that sense. Even though it is good to see we have three new winners in our series. Obviously, two or three that are right there on the cusp of getting their first win. It looks like it’s starting to be more competitive now than it ever has been.”

Does track position play a role in team’s success? “It is. A lot of it is track position. A lot of it’s strategy nowadays. A lot of it’s fuel mileage. There are just so many factors that go into winning a race now it just changes the way you drive these races because you don’t know who you are racing at what point band and who’s on the same strategy. It’s not all about just all-out speed anymore.”

Why do you think we haven’t seen a team or driver dominate team this season? “I don’t know that it’s a bad thing and I think that’s what NASCAR wanted with this car was to make a car that where the lower-budget teams are competitive and winning races. Obviously, when you see teams like the Wood Brothers and Furniture Row Racing winning races, that’s objective accomplished in NASCAR’s eyes. I think that part of it is good, but it is -- it's so tough for these crew chiefs and teams to gain an advantage. That’s why we’ve seen the limited amount of really passing for the lead and things like that on regular racetracks that we’ve been accustomed to. Because everyone is running so even, when you run even there’s no passing. Back in the old days when there were just nine cars on the lead lap, you saw a lot of overtaking. Not necessarily passing, but overtaking because cars were varied in speed. Today, everyone runs nearly the same speed and so its all about track position and strategy.”

Is the emphasis now more on the driver? “I don’t think so. I think that really it’s on the driver in a sense, but we can’t overcome track position. The aero is such a big factor nowadays and we’re running such high speeds that it’s tough -- the best drivers in the world and you can’t make passes like you used to because of the speeds are up. And the cars, everyone’s figured them out so well and there’s no new development that we can really do to these cars that’s going to gain us a half-a-second over somebody else to make it to where we can pass. It’s good in the competition sense that really these races anyone can win, but it’s just who puts themselves in position up front with 50 to go. They’re the guys that you have to look at to win, so it’s just tough to really pass like it used to be.”

How should it be determined if a track needs to be repaved? “I think that there’s tracks like Atlanta, where it’s extremely bumpy, but I don’t think anyone wants that track paved. It’s such a raceable race track. Here, it’s bumpy. Whether it calls for resurfacing, I don’t think so. I think eventually we’ll figure it out and we’ll get better at it and hopefully the cars will work better over the bumps. For right now, I think the groove is just going to keep moving way up high and I think by tomorrow night you’ll see it higher than what it was these first two races of the weekend. Everyone’s trying to avoid them because it upsets the car. I don’t think you could really call for a repave simply based on that. It would have to be something that’s the track coming up or something that could cause danger is the only reason I would repave.”

How important is the last weekend of the season off before Indianapolis? “It’s good because that’s the week that the teams prepare their cars for the Chase and which ones they’re going to designate for the Chase. For the guys that are on the cusp of making it or not making it, that is when they’ll be bringing all their best stuff to the race track to try to get into the Chase and maybe get a win. It’s always, it seems like everyone comes with new revelations at Indy. New race cars, new designs, things like that. That’s always the turning point of our season where we start to see whose really got speed toward the end of the year.”

Have you used any simulations to prepare for Kentucky? “I haven’t. I haven’t in a few years or anything. I did run Nationwide here a couple times and got a pole here in Nationwide. It takes about two or three laps on a race track and you kind of get the feel back for what you had a few years ago. All these drivers I think have been here in one way shape or form whether it be testing two or three years ago. Other than the new guys that are just coming into the sport. Everyone’s been here many laps. It’s not a total new experience for us like you would think from the casual race fan.”

Do you think this will be a single file race? “It’s going to be tough. The optimism in me hopes that it’s one of the best races that we’ve seen, and I hope it is. The driver in me thinks that it’s going to be very, very tough to overtake someone unless you’re on new tires and you’re on a different pit sequence or something like that. It’s tough to say. I don’t know how our cars are going to react to side-by-side racing over the bumps. I just know that when it was hard for the trucks to make passes on the bottom, it’s going to be extra hard for the Cup cars to do it. That part of it, we’ll just see kind of how it plays out tomorrow night.”

Do you think the SAFER barrier in turn one is too close to the track? “There wasn’t a whole lot of run-off area I guess towards the apron. I think when they reconfigured the pit road or something that they moved all that out. I didn’t notice it being a huge hazard thing or a safety concern from my eyes. It is pretty close to the race track.”

By: toyota motorsports