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Denny Hamlin offers possible solutions to improve superspeedway racing

JHby:Jonathan Howard04/25/24


Denny Hamlin
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

For many fans the fuel-saving race at Talladega was another reminder that NASCAR has issues with the racing product, Denny Hamlin included. Hamlin has been a vocal critic of the overall racing product during the Next Gen era.

There was three-wide racing at Dega. But that was mostly just drivers letting it happen. Once the speeds picked up, it was just two-by-two lines from front to back. A third line tried to form late in the race but was stalled by a Ty Gibbs move.

Denny Hamlin talked about solutions to the problem on Actions Detrimental this week. There are two different things going on here. Too much drag in the cars, and the stage lengths do not add up.

“It’s interesting we spend a hundred and fifty laps riding to race the last 38,” Hamlin said. “That was the goal, right? Once you get inside that last fuel window, then you can actually start racing. We saw racing today but it was after that Toyota crash. So from Lap 155 on is when we actually saw racing. But it was still just two by two racing because like Kyle Busch says, you cannot pull out of line, at all. The only way to fix it, well we gotta ask, what do we want to fix?

“If you want to fix the type of racing where you can’t pull out and pass, you gotta take drag out of the cars. You got to reduce the spoiler height, you gotta do something. Then we’re going to be running too fast so then they need to restrict the engines more. Then the engine builders would say, ‘We need to build a new engine based off of the new specs of this plate.’ So, it’s just we keep going in these damn circles where we’re making adjustments and it seems to always go back to these engines.”

As far as the fuel savings, that is a product of the stage lengths. 60-60-68 was awkward for teams in regard to fuel mileage. As Denny Hamlin points out, drivers were able to go about 40 miles on a single fuel run. Saving the fuel was part of the plan to pit late and race out the end of the stage for points.

If you had more fuel and didn’t need to sit on pit road as long as other drivers, you could advance position. Hamlin thinks you could shorten the race and get better stage lengths.

“What you could do is take the speedway down to 400 miles then the stages would actually probably line up quite a bit better,” Hamlin explained. “Yes, if a stage was a fuel run we would never save because we’re always going to fight for stage points. That’s why we’re fuel saving. We’re fighting to have a little better pit stop than ten laps before the end of the stage, so we can jump ahead of the next guy. … If you made the stage lengths the length of an actual full fuel run where we could run wide open you would see balls out racing for the entire day. Instead, we run, we’re pussyfooting around for the entire race until 30 laps to go. I don’t think we should add another stage to it.”

While Denny Hamlin and his cohost couldn’t get the numbers exactly right, he is correct. It was too risky to go all-out and not get the fuel mileage everyone else had. For one, a driver out front has to use a lot more gas to stay up front. In the draft, drivers can lay off the pedal but maintain high speeds.

Truthfully, there is one way to make it work at Talladega. There is no need to cut laps, which I think would be short-sighted. 500-mile races are important for NASCAR, especially on superspeedways.

Run stages of 35-35-118. Teams can race without worrying about fuel issues in the first two stages. So, no fuel saving. Then, you might get a little bit of saving in the final stage. However, it would only require two pit stops to make it on fuel.