Denny Hamlin is confident about his chances in the July 15 NASCAR All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“There’s not a race where I think we can’t win at this point,” said Hamlin during a Tuesday afternoon Zoom conference. “Our team is just very strong.”
The numbers back up that boast. Hamlin has collected nine top-five finishes and four victories in 16 events this season.
He also won last year’s Night Race at BMS from the pole.
“There’s prestige in winning at Bristol. It doesn’t matter if it’s an exhibition all-star event or a 500-lap race,” said Hamlin, who also captured the 2012 BMS Night Race.
Before an estimated crowd of 92,000 at BMS last August, Hamlin spoiled the upset bid of Matt DiBenedetto by grabbing the lead with 11 laps remaining and then charging to victory in his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
As for next week’s All-Star showcase, Hamlin thinks traditional BMS fans will be in for a high-contact treat.
“You’re likely to see a Bristol race of old where guys are fighting for the bottom of the track,” Hamlin said. “If the sticky stuff (Bristol TrackBite traction compound) is put down, we won’t run enough laps to wear it out.
“So it’s going to be a pretty dominant bottom groove. It just a matter of who can get down there and really make some time.”
Hamlin, 39, developed his racing skills competing on gritty Virginia short tracks such as Langley Speedway in Hampton and Southside Speedway in Midlothian.
Naturally, he was pleased when the 2020 All-Star Race was moved from the 1.5-mile layout at Charlotte Motor Speedway to the tight .533-mile concrete oval at Bristol.
“I love this race being on a short track, and I think (Bristol) is a fitting place for it,” said Hamlin, the 2015 All-Star Race winner. “With the short format, you’ve got to be ready and you will have to push every lap. It’s going to be exciting.”
The event will be broken up into four stages of 55, 35, 35 and 15 laps.
Added suspense will come from the introduction of a choose rule which gives drivers the option to select which lane they prefer to line up in during restarts.
That choose rule method is common at weekly short tracks, where promoters actually place a cone on the track surface before restarts.
“I think that’s going to be a great experiment,” Hamlin said. “It will be the most challenging at Bristol of all tracks simply because of how the small place is and how drivers will have to make a decision right before they go green.
“If the chose rule is successful at Bristol, I definitely would like to see it implemented at future races.”
Thanks to the steady guidance of second-year crew chief Chris Gabehart, Hamlin has run among the leaders in nearly every event this season.
“I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t have won about the last four or five races in a row, other than Martinsville,” Hamlin said. “When we get to a track, I feel confident that we’ve got a race-winning car. That doesn’t come every season. And I still feel like we’re going to continue to get better as an organization.”
Hamlin experienced a big dose of heartbreak in Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. With just seven laps remaining and Hamlin protecting a comfortable lead, his car slammed into the outside wall due to a blown tire.
“For my immediate reaction, I was more upset about Indy than I was about losing the championship at Miami last year,” Hamlin said. “We were just sitting there with the lead, trying to make laps and get to the finish.
After Hamlin crashed, Kevin Harvick zoomed past for the victory.
“It was disappointing to say the least,” Hamlin said. “There are three races between the championship, the Brickyard and the Coke 600 to check off my list, so that was an important one that we hated to let go. We just have to find a way to put that behind and move on.”
The next stop comes Sunday afternoon at Kentucky Speedway.
The NASCAR roadshow then heads back to Bristol where Hamlin was in position to win the May 31 Food City presents the Supermarket Heroes 500 until he crashed while trying to navigate around a lapped car.
“I kind of gave it away with 10 laps to go,” Hamlin said.
There were a total of 17 cautions for 102 laps in that Sunday afternoon event, which was held without spectators. Up to 30,000 fans will be allowed inside the massive facility for the BMS All-Star Race.
“It’s going to be intense for sure, especially for someone who thinks their bumper is within reach of the car in front of them,” Hamlin said. “You just need to put yourself in position, and then see how things play out.
“We saw in the spring race that guys were not afraid to run into each other for the win. We were strong that day, so we’re going to be pretty optimistic that we can win this time.”
firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @Greg_BHCSports | (276) 645-2544
Be the first to know
Get local news delivered to your inbox!