Five NASCAR playoff drivers (Aric Almirola, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin), along with @nascarcasm and Paige Keselowski, join me on the frontstretch at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to help break down the upcoming NASCAR playoffs.
Here’s a roundup of the conversation that took place Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway…
— Kyle Larson wants NASCAR to stay out of the dirt game
Despite the success of the Eldora Truck race leading some in the NASCAR world — including Tony Stewart — to stump for an Xfinity or Cup show on a dirt track, Kyle Larson doesn’t think it’s a good idea.
“Tony is probably going to get mad, but I would like to see it just stay as it is,” Larson said. “I wouldn’t like to see Cup on dirt. To me, Cup belongs on pavement and real road course tracks.
“If we went to Eldora, yeah, I would be excited because I would be really fast and I feel like I would definitely have the best shot to win. But at the same time, I think we are fine not going there.”
Why not? Well, Larson seemed to indicate it wouldn’t be a very good show.
“Maybe if Goodyear could make a way better tire and us be actually able to use the horsepower — or even more horsepower in our Cup cars — on a dirt track, I think it would be a lot more fun,” he said. “I don’t really know how to answer the question without making people mad.”
— Denny Hamlin says schedule changes are a fantasy.
People have been chiming in with their opinions on possible schedule changes this week (more short tracks, dirt and road courses among the proposals), but Denny Hamlin says the whole conversation is pointless.
Asked about racing on Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Hamlin said he’d “love to,” but…
“Honestly, none of this is ever going to happen,” he said. “Not until these tracks and NASCAR get together and are willing to make changes. No track is going to give up tens of millions of dollars every time the race cars show up at the racetrack, so it’s going to have take a bold change.
“It’s going to have to take someone way high up saying, ‘We’re making changes and this is what we’re going to do,’ for it to happen. But it definitely won’t happen in the next few years until that contract (through 2020) is over with.”
— Martin Truex Jr. wishes 5-hour decision had come sooner
Defending Cup Series champ Martin Truex Jr. said he wasn’t totally surprised by the decision for sponsor 5-hour Energy to leave the sport — company executives had been “on the fence for awhile,” he said — but the timing leaves Furniture Row Racing in somewhat of a bind.
“I wish it didn’t take quite as long as it did and (it) kind of puts us in a tough spot now,” Truex said. “… I don’t see (team owner) Barney (Visser) putting Furniture Row back on the car and doing that. I don’t know that he can make that work anymore. So we’ll see where it goes from here.”
Truex said he was optimistic the team would be able to find a new sponsor and also still plans to sign a contract extension with the team (his current deal expires at the end of the season). But despite the typical Silly Season months starting to arrive, Truex said he wasn’t too concerned with a contract yet.
“It’s not really a pressing issue for me,” he said. “I know what the team wants. I know where we’re all at. It’s not like I’m nervous they’re going to sign somebody else or I’m going to be searching for a ride. It’s nothing like that. It’s more just trying to focus on racing and feeling like it will get done when it gets done.”
— Joey Logano says New Hampshire could be a case study for tracks having one race.
NASCAR has oversaturated markets like Pocono, Michigan and Kansas by running two races per season at those tracks. Joey Logano is wondering how New Hampshire will respond to having its calendar reduced.
“I think if you go to a racetrack once, it makes it more of an event,” he said. “This weekend will be a great test to see how that works as Loudon goes from two to one. When you think there are two races and you’re a fan that can only afford to go to one, you’re most likely going to choose the playoff race here.
“So it will be interesting to see what the stands look like on Sunday, because now it’s an event. You can’t miss this one and have a chance to go to the next one.”
The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing. These interviews are recommended as a podcast, but also transcribed for those who prefer to read.
1. How often do you have dreams about racing?
Four times a week.
That’s a very exact answer.
I just feel like most nights in my dreams, I’m thinking about racing of some sort — whether it be why my car is doing this or that or why we didn’t do this or that or why we did good. Four nights a week I feel is like a really solid number.
2. If you get into someone during a race — intentional or not — does it matter if you apologize?
Yes. I’m on the record for saying this many times. Even if you’re not sorry, you’ve got to fake it. If you don’t fake it, you get Matt Kenseth’d into the Turn 1 wall at Martinsville.
3. What is the biggest compliment someone could give you?
If they tell you you’re underrated. I think that’s the biggest compliment.
4. NASCAR comes to you and says they’re bringing a celebrity to the track and they want you to host them. Who is a celebrity you’d be excited to host?
Drake. Lil Weezy (Lil Wayne). Any rapper. I like them.
5. In an effort to show this is a health conscious sport, NASCAR decides to offer the No. 1 pit stall for an upcoming race to the first driver willing to go vegan for one month. Would you do it?
I only get the pit stall for one week?
Yeah, just for one race. You look conflicted.
Couldn’t do it.
6. It’s time for the Random Race Challenge. I’ve picked a random race from your career and you have to tell me where you finished.
I’m not going to be good at this.
You’re not good at remembering races?
Do you happen to remember the 2012 New Hampshire spring race, the July race that year?
July. OK. We were fastest in first practice, fastest in second practice. Hold on — I may be thinking of the fall race. (Thinks for a moment) I’m just going to go ahead with this.
I think I was fastest in all practices, we qualified with race pressure air in the tires — we qualified 28th I believe — and got to the lead about lap 100 and won the race.
That was the race after?
I wouldn’t pick a win because that would be too easy.
Hold on then. Yes, I remember the race I think. I think I finished second to Kasey Kahne. That was when we had the debacle on the radio with me and Darian Grubb and he says, “You need two or four tires?” I said, “I don’t know, I just need tires.” And he took it as I needed four tires. We restarted 15th and only got back to second.
I don’t remember the radio part, but that’s correct. You finished second to Kasey Kahne. You led 150 laps.
OK. I had the right year.
So you remembered both races that year. But you said you don’t remember races!
I know. But specific ones where you’re really fast, it’s easy. Ask me about the one I ran eighth at Kansas in blank year, I would never know.
7. Who is the best rapper alive?
Alive? Lil Wayne is the best rapper alive. I would just say Jay-Z — you can talk about, great history, fabulous rapper. He’s amazing.
But I just feel like as far as natural talent, Lil Wayne is the best alive.
Nobody’s said Kendrick Lamar all year. Why do you think that is? Am I just overrating him or something?
Probably. Nas said rap was dead many years ago (the 2006 album Hip Hop is Dead) and I just believe that it’s different now than what it used to be. But Lil Weezy can still kick it. It’s a shame he’s in contract disputes with his label or whatever, and got all these probably awesome songs that we’ll never ever get to hear because they’re arguing. (Editor’s note: Lil Wayne’s three-year legal battle with the label was ended last month, potentially clearing the way for a new album).
8. Who has the most punchable face in NASCAR?
Oh geez. I don’t know. If I want to punch somebody, I need to make sure I can beat them up. I don’t wanna get beat up.
Maybe Brad (Keselowski). That’s probably a popular answer. (Laughs) But I like Brad, just for the record.
Chase Elliott said a couple weeks ago you were his answer last year, but he seemed to indicate that is not still the case.
Yeah, we’re good.
9. NASCAR enlists three famous Americans to be involved with your team for one race as part of a publicity push: Taylor Swift, LeBron James and Tom Hanks. Choose one to be your crew chief, one to be your spotter and one to be your motorhome driver.
Taylor’s for sure gonna be the motorhome driver. We’ll say for obvious reasons there.
LeBron, for his vision, is going to be the spotter. Great court vision, and I see it as great track vision.
And I’ll go with Tom Hanks — smart guy — he’s gonna be the crew chief.
10. What is the key to finding the best pre-race bathroom?
Go before you leave the garage or bus.
You’re not one of these people who go last minute?
No. I’ve never understood that. Like I’ve never had to go and then five minutes later had to go again. Now everyone’s different, but I never understood the people who got off the truck after intros and hauled ass to the bathroom. I never understood that. Don’t know why they do that.
That’s true. I guess why not just go in your motorhome before you walk out to intros in the first place? It’s only a 20-minute difference.
Yeah, I guess. Unless you’re Matt Kenseth’s age and then you have to go every 10 minutes.
11. NASCAR decides they miss the highlight reel value brought by Carl Edwards’ backflips and want a replacement. How much money would they have to offer for you to backflip off your car following your next win?
They wouldn’t have to offer me anything as long as it wasn’t against asphalt or concrete. I’d give it a try.
Do you feel like you’d have a shot to land it?
No. But I’d give it a try.
12. Each week, I ask a driver to give me a question for the next interview. Last week was Kasey Kahne. He wants to know how much time you spend a week on the Golf Guys Tour and the Hoop Group, because it seems like you spend a lot.
It is a lot of work running two leagues between basketball and golf. I’ll estimate between the chats, making rules…(it takes) 12 to 14 hours a week.
So a couple hours a day?
Yeah, somewhere in that range. That might be on the low side. It depends. If there’s an event that week, it’s 40 hours. Have you ever tried to line up 16 divas’ schedules? It’s not easy.
I didn’t think about that. You have arrange the tournament, but you have to make sure everybody is available.
What we try to do is we all meet for dinner in January or February and we say, “Alright, these are the dates we’re gonna hit.” We’ll look to see if anyone has any conflicts at that moment. And if not, we all lock it in on our schedules and then we build our real jobs around it.
So each driver or whatever has to go to their manager or PR rep…
…and mark it on their schedule and say, “Look, we’re locked in, can’t do it.”
What if a conflict pops up? Do you have the change the whole tournament date?
No. If there’s only one or two who is going to miss it, we move on and add a sub.
So they get no points?
Yeah. We have eight events and we drop two (worst performances). So there’s two drops.
That’s painful though, because you don’t get to drop a bad day if you’re absent.
That is correct. People think, “Oh, it’s just a throwaway.” But now you put pressure on yourself to perform in the other events.
Better have a good manager.
The next interview is with Kaz Grala. Do you have a question I can ask him?
What’s the most disappointing loss you’ve ever had in your career?
Previous 12 Questions interviews with Denny Hamlin:
Twitter can be a nasty, no-fun, soul-draining place sometimes. What used to be a place of civil debate and common sense can feel overrun by trolls and haters these days.
So what’s a tweeter to do? Denny Hamlin said he’s taken a new approach this year: “Not replying to mean people.” And now he’s advising others in NASCAR to do the same.
“I’m making a (point) right now to every driver, every team owner, every NASCAR executive and every media member — stop replying to people who make nonsense comments,” Hamlin said. “They have 16 followers! Don’t give them your 100,000 and your stage. No one will ever see their comment. Just brush it by. Talk about the positives — and I’m not a positive guy!”
It sounds good in theory, but…how exactly are people supposed to do that? How does Hamlin ignore the needling comments that have the ability to slice through thick skin?
“You just scroll by it,” he said. “Forget it. That person doesn’t exist. They’re an admirer who has lost their way.”
What do you think? Can that approach work?
Five thoughts after Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway…
1. Veterans Day
The top eight finishers at Atlanta all have at least eight seasons in the Cup Series — a veteran-heavy scoring pylon led by the definitive expert on this old track.
Was it by chance all those experienced drivers found themselves finishing toward the front?
“There’s no coincidence,” Kevin Harvick said.
First of all, Harvick is simply better than other drivers at Atlanta. He understands exactly how to get around the bottom quickly and without abusing his tires — as demonstrated in leading a combined 66 percent of the laps in the Cup and Xfinity Series races.
“He can be on a tricycle and probably be that fast here,” said Joey Logano, who finished sixth.
But the other drivers in the top eight aren’t too shabby either, and it’s because they know how to race from the days when it wasn’t just hammer-down and go all-out — a finesse that can only come with experience.
“This is just the way it used to be when you had a lot of horsepower and you could spin the tires a lot,” Clint Bowyer said after finishing third. “It seems like you get on these tracks like we’ll be at next weekend (in Las Vegas) and it’s qualifying laps every single lap, and those kids will show back up.”
“Those kids” weren’t much of a factor on Sunday. Kyle Larson finished ninth and Chase Elliott was 10th after pit strategy (the same as the one Denny Hamlin and Logano used).
But the others in the top 10 — Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Bowyer, Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Logano and the Busch brothers — all have at least 300 Cup starts.
So despite the youthful look to the Daytona 500, it was the veterans who took over once more experience came into play.
“Talladega is in April,” Harvick said, inferring that would be the next time young drivers would dominate the running order again.
2. Fords focused
Toyota dominated the last two seasons and Chevrolet had its fearsome new Camaro body hitting the track this year, which led everyone to believe the Fords might spend 2018 playing from behind.
But then the manufacturer went out and swept the top three spots at Atlanta, taking four of the top six positions overall.
“It’s clear the Fords have an unfair advantage,” joked Hamlin, who has spent the last two years hearing all the accusations about Toyota’s edge.
Ford drivers were optimistic after their solid day, but cautiously so. Atlanta is “a unique beast” and much different from the other intermediate tracks, Logano said. Just because a driver has a good Atlanta race doesn’t mean it will translate to the other tracks.
Las Vegas “really shows where your mile-and-a-half speed is at,” he added. “Next week will be the true test to see where we’re at.”
Bowyer acknowledged he was “a little bit nervous” in the offseason after knowing the Chevrolets would be showing up with a new body and the Toyotas wouldn’t lose anything.
“But so far, so good,” he said.
3. Jimmie’s jam
What in the world? After two races, seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson is 35th in the point standings — behind even Mark Thompson and DJ Kennington, who only ran the Daytona 500. He is the lowest-ranked driver of all those who have run both Cup races so far.
That’s what happens when a driver finishes 38th and 27th in the first two weeks of the season.
So is it time to panic? Of course not. Johnson and the 48 team can win anywhere, and that’s all it will take.
Still, it has to be unsettling at the very least. Johnson didn’t run well the entire weekend and was lapped on two different occasions before spinning out and really putting his race in the craptastic category.
Another bad run at Vegas could certainly challenge the team’s morale.
4. Gunning it
It’s really quite amazing how few hiccups there have been on the pit stops so far, at least in terms of subtracting one crew member. As noted after the Clash, it doesn’t seem like much of a factor and teams are quickly adapting to the new choreography.
What has been a challenge so far? Pit guns, apparently. As reported here last October, NASCAR implemented a common pit gun for every crew this year. But as it turns out, some teams are having hiccups.
Truex crew chief Cole Pearn told NBC’s Nate Ryan and ESPN’s Bob Pockrass after the race the pit guns were “pieces of shit.” And Truex noted it certainly would be unfortunate if a faulty gun cost someone a win or a spot in the championship race.
Several teams, including Truex, Harvick and Alex Bowman appeared to have issues with them.
But is that a trend, or just a coincidence? Or are they getting blamed for pit crew members messing up?
After all, it didn’t seem like the problems were widespread.
“Mine worked, so we’re happy,” Hamlin said. “If it didn’t work, we wouldn’t be happy.”
It seems too early to judge if this is going to be an ongoing problem or not. Perhaps as the teams work through the quirks of the new gear, it won’t be as big of a deal. But if it happens again in the next few weeks and turns out to be a continuing issue, it’s going to cause some major grumblings from the drivers.
5. Rain Dance
I woke up Sunday morning absolutely convinced the race would be postponed. Even the most optimistic forecasts said there was only a 20 percent chance of getting the race started, and once the rain hit, it would sit over the track and not move until Monday afternoon.
I’ve been through plenty of rainouts before, but this one was different. Now that I’m spending my own money (money many of you gave me through Patreon to travel to races), I felt deeply disappointed and sort of sick over it.
American Airlines was asking $414 to change my flight, which was a no-go. And buying a new flight would have been in the $500 range. That meant I was going to have to go home without seeing the race after making an investment to get here.
That sucked. But even with that feeling, it’s still not the same as what many fans go through during a rainout. After all, I’m supposed to be here; this is my job. Fans who stretch the budget and spend vacation time in order to make a race and then have to leave to get back home for work, school or other obligations must feel so empty and sad when that happens.
I had a little taste of it Sunday morning, but I got lucky when the entire race unexpectedly got in, just with a two-hour delay.
If it hadn’t, at least fans at Atlanta had a “Perfect Weather Guarantee” that would have given them a ticket credit had the race been postponed and they were unable to attend.
That should be the standard at all tracks. The industry has to make it so that NASCAR’s most loyal customers don’t get burned and have nothing to show for their time and money. Because after an experience like that, who would want to come back and try it again?
Denny Hamlin wasn’t being serious when he said 70 percent of NASCAR drivers use Adderall or other ADD medications while racing, he said Friday afternoon.
Hamlin appeared on the popular Barstool Sports “Pardon My Take” podcast with Big Cat and PFT Commenter on Thursday, where they asked him about using medications that would enhance concentration. The driver then suggested nearly three-quarters of the field was using an amphetamine, which is the type of drug only permissible in NASCAR with a prescription.
But Hamlin said he was just throwing out a number.
“I think anyone who has listened to their podcast knows they are funny and joking around and not serious whatsoever,” Hamlin told JeffGluck.com and ESPN.com outside his motorhome at Daytona International Speedway. “They make jokes about a lot of things.
“I literally said we get drug-tested all the time. When they asked me how many (drivers), I said I didn’t know, and they said, ‘Just give us a number,’ and I joked around and gave them a number that has no fact behind it. It’s getting blown up.”
Here’s the transcript of the exchange:
PMT: Do you think that there’s a significant amount of NASCAR drivers that take like Adderall or some sort of ADD medicine to try to focus more?
Hamlin: Mmm…I would say yes.
PMT: Ooh. You gotta put a percentage on it. It’s the old Jose Canseco Rule. You gotta be like, “90 percent of NASCAR drivers do this.”
Hamlin: Seventy percent.
PMT: Wow! OK, that’s a headline grab.
Sure enough, Pardon My Take tweeted a graphic a big number 70 and the caption: Does NASCAR have a drug problem?
Does NASCAR have a drug problem? pic.twitter.com/wFnHcOeXeR
— Pardon My Take (@PardonMyTake) February 16, 2018
NASCAR was furious over the comment because it frequently drug-tests competitors and has a very strict substance abuse policy. AJ Allmendinger was suspended in 2012 and later lost his ride for taking Adderall.
NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell tweeted Hamlin’s comment was a “ridiculous statement.”
In a separate statement, NASCAR said if any driver is found to test positive for a substance taken without a prescription, that person would be indefinitely suspended.
“Simply put, NASCAR is confident in its drug-testing program,” NASCAR said.
Hamlin and O’Donnell then met in the NASCAR hauler, where Hamlin made the point he was “doing a podcast with a lackadaisical group of guys that have fun talking about sports in a non-real way.” The driver said it was better for him and O’Donnell to meet in person to sort it out because “we can become brash at times through text.”
So does Hamlin really think 70 percent of drivers use Adderall?
“Realistically, no,” he said. “Probably not. We get drug-tested all the time and NASCAR has a zero (tolerance) policy for anything that’s not prescription.”
Hamlin told reporters to “consider the source” next time, because he wants to continue to do fun shows.
But he also acknowledged his role in the matter.
“(NASCAR officials) don’t want us giving out false numbers, for sure,” he said. “So I personally need to probably be a little careful not doing that and playing into it. But I still like doing stuff that’s easygoing and not serious.”
Here’s a recap of the videos I made from the recent trip to Las Vegas.
Short version of the ridealong with Denny Hamlin:
Long version of the ridealong with Denny Hamlin:
NASCAR tire carrier Paul Swan’s marriage proposal to Monster Energy girl Mariel Lane after the awards ceremony: