Denny Hamlin wasn’t one of the drivers running off course in Turn 5 during practice and kicking up dirt and debris onto the racing surface.
But enough drivers had difficulty in the new corner—thanks to the reinstitution of the Sonoma Raceway carousel—that the competitors were greeted with a new berm in that corner when they came to the track for qualifying on Saturday.
Kyle Busch, Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, lobbied for curbing in the corner.
“Everybody was dumping their right sides off the race track and dumping dirt on the race track and kind of messing it up for the people that were behind them,” Busch said. “It’s going to get really dirty over there. Guys might be racing side-by-side during the race. The outside guy is definitely going to want to crowd the inside guy and go halfway into the dirt. So it was going to get interesting.
“If you’re a guy that’s leading the race—and you’re coming down to the last lap—just dump your tires into the dirt and the guy behind you is never going to catch you. It didn’t seem like it was all that smart not to have a curb over there.”
But the new berm didn’t faze Hamlin, who had the fastest Toyota in Saturday’s qualifying (sixth overall).
“It didn’t affect me any,” said Hamlin, who qualified one spot ahead of Busch. “I wasn’t one of the guys that was getting off the track.
“I thought it was good, because, obviously, when it gets down in the race, if you didn’t have that, you would just run in the dirt. It is unique for sure. We’re going to use every bit of the racetrack. I didn’t really use it to begin with, but I think it’s good that they can keep the track clean.”