DENNY HAMLIN Las Vegas -- Where the Strange Happens LAS VEGAS (Feb. 25, 2009) -- Plenty of strange things have taken place in Las Vegas in the long and notorious history of the desert city. So, it shouldn't surprise anyone that something strange...
Las Vegas -- Where the Strange Happens
LAS VEGAS (Feb. 25, 2009) -- Plenty of strange things have taken place in Las Vegas in the long and notorious history of the desert city. So, it shouldn't surprise anyone that something strange will happen in this weekend's Sam's Town 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
An Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry will be fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) in the 200-lap event. That is not odd, considering JGR has had a relationship with Interstate Batteries dating back to the team's first season in 1992.
What is odd is that instead of the No. 18 adorning the hood, door panels and rear of the Interstate Batteries machine, the No. 20 will be used when JGR veteran Denny Hamlin attempts to score his first Nationwide Series win at the 1.5-mile track.
While the combination of the No. 20, Interstate Batteries and Hamlin might seem a bit of a departure from the norm, one thing that won't be different is the driver-crew chief combination.
Hamlin and crew chief Dave Rogers will reunite this weekend for the first time in 2009 after enjoying plenty of success together. The duo finished fourth in 2006 Nationwide Series points and have found victory lane together eight times.
So while Rogers and Hamlin finding victory lane won't be odd, it might be a bit strange to see them do it in a green Interstate Batteries car with the No. 20 on it.
Only in Las Vegas.
Denny Hamlin, Driver of the No. 20 Interstate Batteries NASCAR Nationwide Series Toyota Camry at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Is Las Vegas like any other track on the circuit, and how do you approach it?
"Las Vegas is similar to Charlotte (N.C.), but without the transitions going into the corner. A lot of the pavement is relatively the same, tires are relatively the same, so our setups are going to be pretty close."
How do you approach a race weekend like Vegas when you're pulling "double duty"?
"It's a little more track time but I like concentrating on the Cup cars as much as I can. We've cut our schedule way back on the Nationwide side and it's one of those races where we can go for broke and try to win."
Are you looking forward to being back in the Joe Gibbs Racing Nationwide Series program?
"Yeah, obviously with the performance that the 18 car has had the first couple weeks, it's been good. It'll be good to get back with Dave (Rogers, crew chief). I haven't worked with him in almost a year. It'll be neat to have Interstate Batteries on the No. 20 Toyota. Interstate's had a long association with Joe Gibbs Racing, so hopefully we can put them in victory lane."
Dave Rogers, Crew Chief of the No. 20 Interstate Batteries NASCAR Nationwide Series Toyota Camry at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Since Las Vegas Motor Speedway was reconfigured and repaved in 2006, has the surface aged and changed your strategy there?
"I think the track is definitely starting to age. Goodyear is continually working to find a tire that works well at the racetrack. We're optimistic that it will provide good racing. We've made a few changes to our setup just talking to the Goodyear folks. But, until we hit the racetrack, we really won't know."
Is it strange for you to work with Joey Logano one week and then shift gears and work with Denny Hamlin one week later?
"It's not that bad. We got used to it last year. I'm as comfortable with Denny as any driver. I've spent a lot of time with him in the Nationwide Series. I'm getting to know Joey. It's fun. It keeps it interesting. I think it's an advantage, to be honest with you. Each driver brings something different to the table and we get to carry that onto the other drivers. It keeps us from getting stagnant. We could complain about changing seats and changing car colors, but there are way more positives than negatives."
How is Las Vegas different than the other 1.5-mile tracks?
"In years past, the banking was different. It was flatter than other tracks. Now, the bank angle is similar, but the asphalt is new and it's been pretty slick out there and it's hard to get grip out there. Last year was better and, hopefully, this year will even mature a little more and provide more of the side-by-side racing we're looking for. Really, a lot of it is figuring out what that tire wants on that particular surface."
You are bringing Chassis No. 2091 to Las Vegas, a brand new car that has never turned a wheel. Is there any apprehension when you bring a car that has never been used?
"We have fantastic guys who work on our racecars. They are spot-on and rarely, if ever, overlook things. I would bring a new racecar to the track 35 times a year if I could. I like new racecars. The paint job is nice and slick on them. Our fabrication guys always find more downforce with every car they build. There was a time when you'd worry about bringing a new car to the racetrack, but the level of talent in this series is at a point where you don't have to worry about that."