Toyota Racing – Denny Hamlin
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Atlanta Motor Speedway – February 22, 2018
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin was made available to the media in Atlanta:
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Talk about how the week has gone as a two-time Daytona 500 winner.
“It was good. It was definitely busy right up until practice to be honest with you. It seemed like this time was a lot fuller week than the previous one. That or I was just sober for it, one of the two.”
Did you learn anything in practice and if so what?
“Not really. Everything kind of drove like I thought it would. We made one long run there to get an idea of what it was going to do and it was kind of status quo. Everything is kind of what I thought. I hadn’t got to drive it yet. I hadn’t done any off-season testing. I hadn’t run in the simulator or anything like that, so you go out there and run just like everyone else. Your fastest lap is the first lap. Everyone adapts pretty quickly. It’ll just be interesting to see when everyone is out there and you have the track in front of you how the cars react.”
This track has more success with the inside line on restarts. With this package, will you further be penalized if you start on the outside line and will teams count cars on pit road like Martinsville?
“I think a lot of the reasons that the inside line was so important was that the top just had way more wheel spin, but with less horsepower, that should be a little less. I don’t think it’ll be as detrimental actually, probably the other way around. Overall, until I see it, I’m not sure. In all series, even in the lower horsepower Truck Series, the bottom always had an advantage. It seems like anywhere with a tri-oval – Charlotte it one I can think of – you want to be on the bottom simply because your car is loaded properly when you’re on the bottom versus when the top. I’m sure there’ll still be a little bit of an advantage on the bottom, but I would think less horsepower and less wheel spin, it should be less.”
How many laps do you think you’ll be able to go on a set of tires before you have to stop for fuel?
“Last year we ran a lot. I know we kind of had a back and forth strategy with the 4 car (Kevin Harvick) most of the day. He pitted an extra time where we stayed out longer because our car didn’t fall off as bad. His strategy worked a little better. It seemed like he was able to gain ground through that pit sequence. I think you’ll be limited by lap time more so than the tire. I think you’ll probably be able to go 50, 60 laps on tires. It’s probably not going to be best for strategy.”
Will teams go out together in a group for qualifying and if so how will teams decide who goes first and who goes last and has a better chance at the pole?
“Our team hasn’t even discussed that to be honest with you, so I’m not sure. This track just wears down so much and there’s such a lack of grip that I don’t know that I’d want to be directly behind anybody in qualifying. We haven’t talked about it. It doesn’t mean we won’t, but we haven’t discussed that.”
Would you have to alternate or draw straws?
“I don’t know how that’s going to work, but I see your point on tracks like this where there’s excessive grip. You’re certainly going to want to go out there and get some kind of draft. I don’t know how you orchestrate it to be honest with you and who decides – the only way everyone gets an equal benefit is if everyone is spaced out perfectly. Keeping that last guy in line from lagging back would be the key because he’s the one pushing the leader forward. If you can stay tight enough in a group, I’m sure that pack will be pretty fast, but I just don’t know about at this race track.”
Compare this package to the All-Star race last year.
“It seems like the All-Star package – again it’s a different race track with different grip levels – it stuck to the track a lot more than this one, but I think it had less power if I’m not mistaken. Just with the extra straightaway speed and lack of grip here, it just felt like handling will be an issue and something that you’ve really got to work on where in Charlotte, we were just thinking about how can we get speed out of this car. I think this weekend in particular most teams will be focused on how can we get it handling right.”
How much do you notice the speed here?
“It’s a little bit different. It’s certainly a different feel. To me, it drives kind of like how I’d imagine a truck would. It’s been a long time since I’ve ran a truck on a big track like this, but it seems like it’s got the same type of straightaway speed. I might be way off on that. Same kind of characteristics. It’s kind of a little bit more lazy to move around, especially in the corners. Everything is kind of going slower with the movement because you’ve got so much more downforce. I think probably in a few weeks when we go back to a mile track like a Dover with maximum power or 750, it’s going to feel like 1000 to us. Whatever you run, you get used to it pretty quick.”
Do you notice the difference in speed?
“Definitely not it was in Charlotte where we were – it’s different because everyone is starting the season off with this. We never really had horsepower – we didn’t have horsepower last week where Charlotte we were coming off running major horsepower and the next thing you know we’re running 450 or 500 – whatever we had at Charlotte – that’s when it felt major major difference. Everyone is starting a new year. I would say that no one will think it’s really a huge deal.”
Was the tire fall-off comparable to what you’ve seen in the past and when you qualify, will you need to run an extra lap to get the engine up?
“You definitely will need to run the extra lap to optimize your speed. You just can’t get off pit road fast enough for the first lap. The times were really close though. If you can get a really good run, it certainly can be pretty close on that first lap and give you a safety net if you do mess up on the second lap. The fall-off – we fell off about a second in 20 laps. I would say that’s probably a little less than what we’ve had in the past.”