Hamlin: ‘It’s a Kansas thing’

KANSAS CITY, KANSAS - MAY 07: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Cup Series Advent Health 400 at Kansas Speedway on May 07, 2023 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

What a difference a couple of months make. The last time NASCAR raced on a 1.5-mile track was in March at Las Vegas. That race featured 13 lead changes, and left many fans, and drivers for that matter wondering if there was some sort of issue with NASCAR’s 1.5-mile aero package.  All the attention from the sport had been on the package used at short tracks and road courses.

The one used for the intermediate tracks, the 1.5 milers that make up the bulk of the schedule was only tweaked. After the Vegas race, won by William Byron in dominating fashion, many wondered what would happen at the next 1.5-mile track.

That question was answered Sunday at Kansas Speedway which saw 37 lead changes, including the first last lap pass for the win in a Cup race there ever.

“This is just a perfect racetrack for this race car,” Sunday’s race winner Denny Hamlin said. “The match between the car, the tire and the racetrack, it’s just a perfect match. That’s why you saw today really nobody running away from the field. As many leaders as we saw side by side, two, three laps in, I saw these guys dicing up three wide for the lead. It has just enough falloff where track position is very important but it’s not everything. You can still get position on someone, like you saw there on the last lap.”

Much of the race for the lead Sunday was spent with drivers fighting side by side swapping the top spot sometimes several times a single lap.

“It’s a Kansas thing,” Hamlin said. “So, what happens is that the preferred lane is up high, so you have to drive in the corner and pull a slider on someone, and sometimes that slider doesn’t work, which is why you saw most of the wrecks I think were probably a product of that.”

Sunday’s win was the 49th of Hamlin’s career, putting him one win away from tying Tony Stewart on NASCAR’s all-time win list. It’s also the fourth Kansas win of his career; Hamlin now holds the record for the most wins at Kansas among active drivers with four.

“Yeah, it’s a special place anyway,” he said. “I got my first start here at Kansas back in ‘0 — oh shit, long time ago, ’05, something like that. It’s special for sure. Like he said, doesn’t matter kind of the car, the tire, whatever the aero package that changes, I have a feel at this track that I like to get, and when I get it, it certainly equals wins.

“Really proud of that. “

For Hamlin with all the passing going on, he said he actually had fun.

“Well, I actually said over the radio on lap 5 or 6 that — when we had that early caution, I was like, man, it looks like fun up front,” he said. “I started eighth but I kind of got to fifth or sixth pretty quick, and I saw that they were dicing like crazy for the lead.  Again, this is a perfect match of track, car and tire. When you match them all up perfectly, you get the kind of racing like you saw today.”

As for the future. Will the next 1.5-mile track provide the same sort of excitement and fun that was seen Sunday at Kansas?

“A lot of it has to do with how wide the racetrack is so you’re able to get away from the wake of the car in front of you,” Hamlin said. “Generally, race cars don’t like to be in the wake, so the narrower the track, the tougher the racing and the passing is going to be, and if you look at the times, there’s about a second and a half of falloff at this track.

“Like I said, when your car is good, you can still make up positions by taking a different line than someone else can. It’s just a great match for it. It’s got just enough grip to where you’re hanging a lot of throttle so there’s a little bit of the drafting going on down the straightaway early in a run, and then it’s all about handling and maneuverability of your car late in a run. It’s a perfect mix.”

Greg Engle