Denny Hamlin says only two options to keep cars from going airborne at Talladega

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CONCORD, N.C. – Denny Hamlin says there are only two options for keeping race cars from getting airborne at Talladega Superspeedway, and neither is good.

“You have to slow us way down — like 50 mph – or you’re going to have to let us run 250 there and get spread out,” the Joe Gibbs Racing driver said Monday during an event at the Concord Boys and Girls Club, which received a donation of 10 HD TVs from team sponsor Hisense. “That’s the only way to avoid these massive wrecks. The reason we’re all wrecking in horrific fashion is because if someone gets turned sideways, there’s someone else right there to lift them off.

“As long as there are 20 cars in a 1-second pack, it’s going to happen. We talk about this every two to three restrictor-plate races. There just is no fix because we haven’t done it yet. We don’t know. The only thing we can do from my standpoint and the ignorance I have is you have to slow us way down or speed us way up. We have to get spread apart. That’s the only way you’re not going to have these crazy crashes.”

Hamlin said drivers have been lobbying for lesser speeds as the better choice but cautioned drivers would “get more comfortable and give each other less room and wreck just as much” by going slower.

The Daytona 500 winner, who finished 31st Sunday in the Geico 500 after struggling with pit miscues Sunday, said the spate of violent wrecks stems from too many drivers becoming too acclimated to plate racing.

“It’s not a great option to stick with what we have,” he said. “Obviously the chances of someone getting hurt is more likely.

“You look at speedway racing 15 to 20 years ago, and the outside line was running the outside and the inside on the inside. Now we give each other no room for error anymore. We give each other inches in the corner. The person on the top is just sucking down on the door of the guy on the bottom.

“We’re good, but we’re not that good. We can’t keep the car in a 1-foot space on all four corners. It’s just something we created by the way we’re driving. We’re trying to find every advantage that we can with air, and we have to use that space to get advantages. So I think drivers are just smarter than what they were back then, and until we get spread out, I just don’t know of a good solution.”

Asked whether he liked racing Talladega after finishing second Sunday, JGR teammate Kyle Busch said, “I hate it” and added he would have preferred to skip the race having already qualified for the playoffs with a victory.

Hamlin also is qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup but said he still enjoyed Talladega.

“I like going there; I’m decent at it,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of people that like to do it. I always say that if points didn’t matter, Talladega would be fun for everyone. We would all love to do it. We all get frustrated when we get in wrecks. We know it’s a detriment to a Chase run or a championship run. That part of it is frustrating.

“We all enjoy this type of racing, we just don’t like wrecking. When it happens, we get frustrated. Kyle didn’t wreck, but I think there’s just always frustration there. I’ve been part of it. I’ve been in the group who says we should never race restrictor-plate races, they should never be in the Chase. I’ve been on the other side when it’s this is part of our racing. We wreck harder at superspeedway races, but we wreck just as much on road courses. Should either determine our champion? I don’t know, but they’re there, and you have to deal with it.”

Hamlin is in his second year on the Sprint Cup Drivers Council, which discusses major issues in NASCAR on a daily basis. He said there wasn’t much conversation Monday about Talladega beyond safety concerns about Danica Patrick’s wreck, whose violent impact resembled the crash that knocked out Kyle Busch for the first 11 races last season.

“The car didn’t look good at all,” he said. “The foot compartment, luckily for her, she was short (and) had some extra room there. There’s some issues, but NASCAR is all aware what we’re looking for safety-wise. They’ve addressed most of our issues. I think this one will be no exception.”

After meeting last Friday at Talladega, the next Sprint Cup Drivers Council meeting could be later this month at Charlotte Motor Speedway.