DENNY HAMLIN CLAIMS TOP-FIVE FINISH IN NASCAR’S RETURN
Three Camry Drivers Notch Top-10s at Darlington
DARLINGTON, South Carolina (May 17, 2020) – Denny Hamlin was the top-finishing Camry in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Darlington Raceway as NASCAR made its return after 69 days. Hamlin was followed to the checkered flag by Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Martin Truex Jr. (6th) and last year’s Darlington race-winner, Erik Jones (8th). The Cup Series returns to action Wednesday night at Darlington for the Toyota 500 at 8:00 PM ET.
Toyota Racing Post-Race Recap
NASCAR Cup Series (NCS)
Race 5 of 36 – 400.2 miles, 293 laps
TOYOTA FINISHING POSITIONS
1st, Kevin Harvick*
2nd, Alex Bowman*
3rd, Kurt Busch*
4th, Chase Elliott*
5th, DENNY HAMLIN
6th, MARTIN TRUEX JR.
8th, ERIK JONES
24th, CHRISTOPHER BELL
25th, DANIEL SUÁREZ
26th, KYLE BUSCH
33rd, TIMMY HILL
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx “Thank You” Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Finishing Position: 5th
What was the atmosphere like at the race track today?
“It was definitely different for sure. Just very subdued, very quiet. That’s the biggest thing I noticed, it was just how quiet everything was. That was the biggest change I noticed.”
Did the safety protocols seem adequate and simple?
“It was pretty quick and not much to it to be honest with you. We all have been isolating ourselves for a long time now so everyone is doing their part and social distancing. Felt like we were in a good spot with our sport where we’re a non-contact sport, player to player so this was a good opportunity for us to come back.”
How was your race overall and what confidence does the performance give you for Wednesday night?
“There’s definitely confidence for sure. We kind of ran about where we did last fall, somewhere in that range. Track position was huge. We were really good today. We lost a lot of spots on pit road early in the day. We got a few of them back by the end, but just so important to start up front and stay up front. We did that for the most part, but we just got shuffled on two bad pit stops and that kind of hurt our track position and we weren’t able to fully recover from it.”
MARTIN TRUEX JR., No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Finishing Position: 6th
What stood out the most at the track with the safety screenings and no fans?
“It definitely had a weird feel to it. It almost felt like we were at a test session, but its like, ‘you have to race and this is serious and this is for points, a trophy and money and all that stuff.’ It kind of just had a weird feel to it. I think everybody felt the same way with the race, it was just kind of strange, but at the same time everybody was excited to be there and be able to get back to a little bit of normal even though it wasn’t quite normal.”
Did you feel the safety measures were adequate?
“Honestly, I felt totally comfortable with everything and I feel like they did a really good job of having a game plan and having a strategy. Honestly, I feel 100 percent comfortable with how things went today and that everybody is safe and everybody is able to go about their business and do their jobs and not have to worry about it. I have to commend NASCAR and everybody involved for what they did. It was very streamlined and very easy and even all the team guys commented on how well everything went and how smooth it was and it wasn’t like it was a big hassle for anybody to be able to do it. From that standpoint, I think everything went really, really good. I’m definitely comfortable with the way things are.”
How much concern did you have in the first stage of the race with how off the car was?
“It was looking pretty dark and gloomy there for the first two runs and honestly my biggest concern was not wrecking the first run because it was so far off and it was all I could do to just hang on to it and then the second run it took off a little bit better, but then it came right back around to being terrible again. I just had to ride and wait on the track to take some rubber and things to change and towards the end of that run, we were starting to get somewhat competitive so I knew there was some light there at the end of the tunnel. I still told James (Small, crew chief) that we need to make some big changes and I think he already knew that. From there, we just kept taking big swings at it. Great job by him and the guys to stay calm and doing what needed to be done. We were able to make something out of it. Felt like towards the end there, we had a top-three or four car and maybe if we could get out front, we might be able to hold them off. Then of course on the last stop we had a little issue on the right-rear and lost some spots and then restarted ninth on the inside, which was the worst place to possibly be – inside is a tough restart there. We lost a bunch of positions and then had to make them all up at the end. We passed a lot of cars all day, but especially at the end. We were faster than the leader when we could get clean air at the end so that was promising. Just really happy and proud of everybody for having so much time off and being able to come back and do it and hopefully we learned a lot for Wednesday that should help us.”
What was it like starting the race with no practice and no qualifying?
“I think everybody was just real antsy about getting out there and wanting to make a couple laps and see what they had. I think everybody did a good job of keeping their heads screwed on straight and kind of taking it easy those first couple laps, obviously one guy had an issue and crashed, but aside from that it was pretty clean. Everybody kind of minded their business there and took it easy. Honestly, it almost felt like it was coming back to the first race after the off-season except we didn’t test and we didn’t have practice or qualifying. It was like, ‘Alright, here we go.’ It’s funny, once you get in the car and get your helmet on and all ready to go, it just comes right back to you – all the feels of the last race and all that stuff. It’s a comfortable place for somebody who’s been around the block for awhile.”
How much confidence do you have for Wednesday night’s race after today’s performance?
“No question, we can get better. The question is how much better will other guys get as well. That’s really where the results will come in. I definitely feel that we can get better, especially as bad as we started off and hopefully we’ll be able to make some good changes and go there and be competitive. We definitely got a lot of practice passing cars so the invert will be nothing new for us.”
ERIK JONES, No. 20 DEWALT Atomic “Thank You” Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Finishing Position: 8th
What stood out most to you about today?
“It was just unique. It really felt like you were just there for a test with nobody being there. Then you get on pit road, and it feels more like a race. You are just missing the fans. Unique, different. It was weird standing there for the anthem and it’s playing over the loudspeakers and then you hop in and go. It was really expedited. The longest part of the day was I got there probably way too early. I got there around 9:45 and I had to sit there for five hours. So, a long day from that standpoint, but once things started rolling and we went out to the cars it was time to go. A lot different and kind of the new normal for right now, but it paid off just being able to get out there and go run.”
What do you like about racing at Darlington?
“I don’t know, I just have a really good feel for there. I feel like I can move around and try some different stuff. I feel like I have one groove that works really well for me when I can get my car to do the things, I want it to do to run and that’s paid off really well for me the last four races. I’ve always felt really comfortable. Obviously, a lot different this race not having practice and not being able to tune on the car and get it where you want it to be. I think that’s the other part. The last few years at Darlington, we’ve done a really good job in practice of getting the car doing what it needs to do in practice to be good at night in the race. Even through, maybe it’s not the fastest during the day. Darlington’s just somewhere I’ve always felt comfortable. There and Bristol are the two places that I feel the most comfortable on the schedule.”
What happened towards the end of the race?
“We had a loose wheel and we saw it after the race. I was pretty sure it was loose there on the last restart and knowing we only had like 30-35 laps to get to the end, I figured we could make it. The last five laps it really started bothering the race car and kind of upsetting it. That’s why my pace really fell off. I fired off really good. That was the best the car was all day. I think we could have probably run fourth at best, maybe fifth if we didn’t have that loose wheel. But still, good to bring home eighth. We’ve had a rough start to the year before this break. Only had one top-10. Eighth’s our best finish to this point, so we have to keep improving from there. I felt like our cars were better today than what they were the last time we raced. We will continue to work on them. We have some work to do to get up to the 4 (Kevin Harvick) and the 88 (Alex Bowman). They were pretty long gone today. Not sure we can do a whole lot for Wednesday, but I think we can definitely make some gains to be a lot closer.”
Do you think some gains can be made for Wednesday?
“Yeah, the positive thing from today is we made really good gains all day long. We continued to get the car better each stop. We continued to get it faster and the last run of the race was the best the car was all day. We had the car how we needed it. We just had the loose wheel issue. I think that gives us at least a good baseline to start Wednesday. The race ended there around 7:15-7:20, so a little bit closer to dark and a little bit closer to what we will be racing at on Wednesday at the start of the race. Hopefully, we can start at that point and be close and make a few adjustments from there and be up in the top five more than the back of the top 10 like we were today.”
CHRISTOPHER BELL, No. 95 Rheem Toyota Camry, Leavine Family Racing
Finishing Position: 24th
What stood out most to you about today?
“Yeah, it was definitely very different vibes today. Just no atmosphere. Very few mechanics, and obviously all the drivers and no fans. There was no atmosphere around prerace, but when the green flag dropped nothing much was different. I felt like it went really smooth. Everyone took it easy at the start of the race. We got some laps underneath of us. I hope it was a good show, because I had a lot of fun today.”
Talk about the run today.
“We were going really good there. We got up inside the top 15. I was really happy with that. Then, I just made a mistake, and spun there off of four. Luckily, it didn’t hurt the car too bad and we were still able to finish on the lead lap. I definitely think it’s something to build off of. It was a great learning experience for me – my first Cup race at Darlington. I think we will definitely have something to build off of going back in a couple days.”
Do you think some gains can be made for Wednesday?
“It’s nice to be able to get some races in here. We haven’t been racing in a while, so now we can get back in the swing of things and start to get some laps. Especially for me being a rookie – get some experience in the car. Today was a great learning, and we can build off of it and hopefully come back a little stronger for the next one.”
DANIEL SUÁREZ, No. 96 Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Toyota Camry, Gaunt Brothers Racing
Finishing Position: 25th
What stood out most to you about today?
“It’s always good when you can go back to a racetrack, especially when we’ve been out of racing for over two months. That’s definitely a good feeling. The other side – it was very weird. Just to show up to a race track and not being able to talk to anyone and just go race and leave. It’s a little bit different. Nobody likes it. It’s not something that we want to get used to but that’s what we have to do for now to be able to stay safe and to be able to put on a show for all the fans.”
Talk about the race overall today.
“The race was okay. At this point, something that is positive is that we are overachieving. The speed that we have really wasn’t good enough to finish there, but the team did a good job making good calls. I felt like we were able to defend our positions well and fight hard on restarts. We were able to get a decent finish. That’s not the goal. We want to keep getting better, but we are a young team. We are still building in many different areas. We will keep getting better as time goes on.
Is it beneficial as a new team to be able to do two races back-to-back at the same track?
“Tomorrow, we are going to go to the shop. The original plan is to bring this car back for Wednesday. We will have to make some adjustments to try to make it better. We will go back to the shop tomorrow and have meetings and make adjustments based on that and come back on Wednesday. Hopefully, we can come back stronger. That’s the goal.”
KYLE BUSCH, No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Finishing Position: 26th
What did you think of the safety procedures in place throughout the day?
“It seemed to go really smoothly and really easy. Just being able to walk around the track from your bus to the car and just be there to do a job and a duty and less chaos kind of going around the day seemed to make it a bit easier. Other than that, you kind of miss just being with or around your guys.”
What were the challenges for you throughout the race after starting from the back?
“Really disappointing to have to start at the back when we had a fourth-place starting position. That was going to be a great day for us to just kind of be up front, ride up and front and hopefully stay up front all day and make our M&M’s Camry better after being in position from the start up where we feel we should be running. Instead we had to make up the whole day and finally we got to fifth and restarted there and fell to eighth or ninth on a restart because our car was so slow on restarts, but also I was too loose on that restart. Then got in the wall and had to go back to the back and worked our way back up to the front again. Then got back to fifth again for the final restart and had a loose wheel. My guys had a good pit stop, but obviously too good of a pit stop where we didn’t get all the lugnuts tight and it was a loose wheel. Ended up having to come down pit road and service the car again to make it to the end. Just got no result for the effort that was put out today.”
What are you able to take to Wednesday night’s Cup race at Darlington?
“Going back and trying to figure out what we need to do to get better. We’ve got problems unloading off the hauler and being good. It takes a lot of work between Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and myself and the engineers to get the car tuned in and dialed into the race tracks. We fought the same thing last year at Indy, which we ran terrible last year at Indy with no practice in the race and we had won the previous three years. It’s something we definitely have to work on.”
— Toyota Racing —
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