Coming off of a sixth place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway, Denny Hamlin heads to a track that he has ran well at before – Auto Club Speedway.
“I’m looking forward to coming to this track,” Hamlin commented. “This track has a lot of tire wear, which is typically good for us and it’s a track where we can move around. It’s one of the few race tracks where they haven’t repaved so it usually puts on some of the best races. It’s a great race track for that. We look forward to coming here and running extremely well. We had a pretty good first practice, so we’re starting off on the right foot.”
Last year, Hamlin was in contention for the win racing Joey Logano hard, when contact between them sent Hamlin into the inside retaining wall hard while Kyle Busch took the win. Oddly enough, Logano and Hamlin are parked beside each other in the garage this weekend.
“I expected it — we’re close in points. Really for us, it really doesn’t matter too much,” Hamlin commented. “It really doesn’t change anything. I spoke the same amount of words to Joey (Logano) as my teammate Matt (Kenseth) and he’s on the other side of me. It really doesn’t matter. You’re so focused on what you have to do to get better. It really is just a year.”
Hamlin says that it didn’t take long for him to get last year’s incident out of his mind as he was more focused on getting past it.
“It’s just you have to move on and you have to deal with the adversity and be stronger from it,” he commented. “That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Hamlin added that letting it play tricks on your mind is something that you can’t worry about as you need to be focused on preparing for the race.
“Especially when you’re on the track, it’s hard enough to pass in these cars, so you have to concentrate in these cars at all times about what you’re going to do to run the best lap you can and not, ‘Hey I need to get to this guy or that guy to retaliate’,” Hamlin added. “It’s just a different mindset now. It’s not like it used to be in the ’90s and ’80s and things like that when we saw these spats. It’s a different kind of racing.”
When Hamlin made contact with the wall last year, there was no SAFER barrier there. Since Hamlin’s wreck, ACS officials have installed a barrier there. Hamlin said that it should’ve been common sense for that wall to already be there.
“We can hit inside walls at anywhere and we hit inside walls sometimes harder than we hit outside walls,” he explained. “For an outside organization to say you don’t need it at this place because of odds or statistics, you’re not going to hit here or it’s a less dangerous spot is ridiculous. Anywhere that we have a concrete wall should be covered by SAFER barrier. There’s a lot of race tracks where you look at the map from the sky and my particular team has highlighted where there is no SAFER barrier at a lot of mile-and-a-halfs. Eighty percent of the inside walls are not covered at all. Even though this is a small section that they have here at this track, it’s not just about this one. It’s about many, many other mile-and-a-halfs — they have to improve on getting SAFER barriers where they should be. It could save someone one day. It should be at the highest priority.”
Last year’s wreck resulted in a broken back vertebra for Hamlin and forced him to miss a couple of races. A year later, Hamlin says that he feels fine – probably even better than before the wreck – as the wreck forced him to look into options to help issues he was experiencing before the wreck.
“I’m past that part,” he added. “Coming in here, I think the only time I thought about the wreck was the first corner going off in turn three the first lap of practice where you kind of think about what happened and things like that. But, literally you’re running such speeds here and you’re on edge so much that the next time I came around it was an afterthought and I haven’t thought of it since.”
For Hamlin, he’d rather be focused on trying to win as he feels this is as track that he can get a win at based on previously experience.