Denny Hamlin’s penchant for pushing the accelerator too much in the pits recently earned “a sitdown with the boss.”
On the NASCAR on NBC Podcast, Hamlin said team owner Joe Gibbs recently admonished him for accumulating four speeding penalties through the first 10 races of the season.
“I think he’s offended a little bit when they kind of make jokes on TV about it,” Hamlin said with a laugh about the meeting with Gibbs. “He’s like, ‘This is not a joking matter. This is costing you finishes.’
“It’s amazing we’ve had the finishes we’ve had with the penalties we’ve had. I think if we can just tighten things up a little bit. Honestly, we have not had many mistake-free races this year. I think once I have a race where there’s nothing going on that doesn’t set me to the back of the pack, middle of the race, results are going to show a lot better.”
Hamlin was caught for speeding at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and twice at Talladega Superspeedway. Each penalty occurred on entry to the pits.
“Most of our penalties has been entering the pits,” Hamlin said. “There’s so much data out there, I’m learning from it and trying to get better at it.”
One method for improvement is trying to understand how much reward and risk there is within the system used by drivers to stay under the limit. Cars don’t have speedometers, so a system of lights helps indicate when they are near the limit.
“Being more informed of that extra light, what does that amount to in feet,” Hamlin said. “Tell me is it a car length? Two feet? That will help manage my risk as well.”
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla., — If life as a full-time NASCAR driver hadn’t worked out, Denny Hamlin probably would be selling trailer hitches.
But his family’s business instead sustained the Chesterfield, Virginia, native’s Late Model career, helping secure the breaks to get hired by Joe Gibbs Racing.
Hamlin, 37, has 31 victories through 12-plus seasons in NASCAR’s premier series, and though he plans to race for several more years, he eventually will retire.
What will he be doing then?
Maybe selling trailer hitches.
“I really want to run a day-to-day business,” Hamlin said on the 138th episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast about his post-NASCAR career. “I don’t want to be there at 6 a.m. and open the doors, but I want to be there 9 to 3, checking on things, running things, making sure everyone’s happy.
“I just don’t know what kind it is. It might be a trailer shop. I loved going to work at the trailer shop with my dad when I was 17 years old. I knew everything about the business, I knew how to sell trailers. I knew how to build them. I knew how to install the hitches, do all the wiring. I knew how to do everything in that business. Maybe that’s something I go back to when I’m done.”
Hamlin, who had a brief run as the owner of a Charlotte nightclub, said he will open a new hamburger joint (a Little Big Burger franchise) soon near his home in Cornelius, North Carolina.
That made him a qualified candidate to help as a judge last week in sponsor FedEx’s Junior Business Challenge (with Junior Achievement Worldwide). The program, which runs in conjunction with PGA Tour events, relies on a high-profile panel to judge business concepts from a group of JA students with entrepreneurial aspirations. In an event before last weekend’s Players Championship, Hamlin judged entries along with Olympic medal gymnast and PGA golfer Billy Horschel (who joined Hamlin on the podcast).
In his evaluation, the 2016 Daytona 500 winner probably applied some lessons from his teenage years working for his father.
“I’d always complain to him that our business says we close at 5 o’clock, and yet if someone pulls in at 5:02 and needs something fixed on their trailer, if we’re here, we’re working,” he said. “The hours on the door were theoretical. He was all about making the customer happy. I don’t care how long it takes, we’re going to stay here and finish the job.
“If we told someone we get it done on this day, then it’s done. Whatever it takes. People really came back to our business a lot because of my dad and his mentality that they knew we’ll do the job and fix it no matter what the hours were. That hard work was infectious and reminded me that if I ever got back into running a business it would be that type of feeling of going to your buddy’s place to get your stuff fixed, not a business.”
But Hamlin, who signed a multiyear contract extension with JGR before last season, said he doesn’t have a timeline for when he’ll return to regular hours.
“The current contract goes quite a ways, and I probably want to do one more after that,” he said. “As long as I can win races, be competitive and be up front, I don’t know how long I’ll race.
“But I want to be busy outside racing. I’ll be stir crazy. I can only play golf so much. Basketball, my body will only go so long.”
In the podcast, Hamlin also discusses:
–His 2018 season, in which decent speed has been muted by a lack of execution (such as speeding penalties);
–How the professional rhythm of a golfer differs from a race car driver (with Horschel also offering his perspective);
–The return of Matt Kenseth and how JGR has adapted without him;
Kenseth and Bayne will share the No. 6 Ford with Kenseth making his 2018 debut May 12 at Kansas Speedway. What’s in store for them both beyond this season is unknown.
When Kenseth talked with NASCAR America’s Marty Snider after the announcement, he had yet to talk with Bayne about their new situation.
“I’ve known Trevor for a long time,” Kenseth said. “Trevor is a great, great guy. Nobody likes being in the spot he’s in necessarily right now. But I think after he thinks about it for a few days and what he really desires and what he wants out of it, knowing Trevor, I think he’s going to come in and work even harder and try to be better. So I’m looking forward to having that conversation.”
Bayne’s prospects going forward were discussed on the latest NASCAR America Debrief podcast episode with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Letarte.
Both agreed the 2011 Daytona 500 winner will need to work to “rebuild his reputation” as a driver, with Letarte comparing Bayne’s potential future to the career of JR Motorsports’ Elliott Sadler and Earnhardt likening it to Justin Allgaier‘s.
“Trevor Bayne’s in a position much like Justin Allgaier was in years ago where he’s got a partner that believes in him in AdvoCare,” Earnhardt said. “If I’m him, I’m on the phone with them right now and talking to them, ‘Do you want to work with me in the future, we can go over here and look at this opportunity or look at this opportunity in Xfinity or the Truck Series,’ wherever it is. I would be trying to make sure I have a very strong relationship with them because that’s going to be the key to making any move to continue his driving career.
“He’s unlikely to get an opportunity that’s rewarding without some financial support.”
Earnhardt added: “He has to rebuild his reputation as a race car driver and that’s the only way to do it, is to go win races and run well.”
Letarte said he believes the situation between Kenseth, Bayne and Roush Fenway is “past awkward” given Bayne’s results. He has run in the top 15 in 10.5 percent of the laps run this season. Bayne’s average finish is 23.9 — compared to 19.5 last year — and he ranks 25th in the series in average running position (23.0).
“I think if anybody finds this awkward, then shame on them,” Letarte said. “Let’s just be honest. Stats tell a pretty accurate story. Comparing your teammates, comparing the field, there’s a hundred different ways you can do this. If at any point Trevor Bayne is shocked or anything like that, then shame on his own management team and Roush Fenway for leading him down this path of disbelief that everything was going to be OK.
“Should he be upset? Sure. Emotion comes into it. Is it going to be awkward the first time they meet? Yes. But I think Trevor Bayne should be and I will say is smart enough to realize, ‘the more awkward this is, the worse it probably is for me.’ ”
Letarte also assessed how he viewed Kenseth’s return for the future health of Roush Fenway despite the lack of detail about how long the deal is with the 2003 series champion.
“I love the fact that they didn’t try to put structure around everything,” Letarte said. “Not every road trip can be planned, A -to-B, every stop. Sometimes you have to say, ‘Hey man, it’s cold here, we’re heading south, we’re going to get on 85 and see where we go.’ And that’s what I heard from Roush Fenway. ‘Where we’re at is no good. We’ve been to the right and it’s no good, so we’re going to go to the left and that involves Matt Kenseth.”
Earnhardt believes Kenseth will return to Roush next season as the full-time driver of the No. 6.
“That’s my hope if I’m an owner of the car, that this change brings performance,” he said. “I think that’s what Matt wants. And Matt said that he doesn’t think he’s a long-term solution for the 6 car. He sees an opportunity to try to improve the team and help the team on all fronts.
“He comes in there and does really well in the car, fires up some partners, sparks some interest from Corporate America to get involved in the team, and then they can move on to the next season with Matt as the full-time driver. I don’t believe you keep Matt and Bayne together as a part-time deal. That doesn’t happen.”
Roush Fenway Racing has what it is billing as a “Major Roush Fenway Partner Announcement” at 10 a.m. Wednesday, and a report states the team will reveal that Matt Kenseth will return to drive select races in the No. 6 Ford of Trevor Bayne.
Roush Fenway Racing declined comment to NBC Sports on Tuesday. Several industry insiders contacted by NBC Sports had no knowledge of Kenseth going to the No. 6 car.
Kenseth left the series last year, unable to find a ride after he was told he would not be retained by Joe Gibbs Racing after the season. The move allowed JGR to put Erik Jones in the No. 20 car this year.
“I’ve put a lot of thought into it and pretty much decided after Martinsville, which I kind of already knew anyway, but we decided to take some time off,” Kenseth told Ryan. “I don’t know what that means. I don’t know if that’s forever. I don’t know if that’s a month or I don’t know if that’s five months. I don’t know if that’s two years. Most likely when you’re gone, you don’t get the opportunity again. I just don’t really feel it’s in the cards.
“Really most of my life, everything has been very obvious to me. Moving to Joe Gibbs, everybody was like, ‘Oh that must have been the hardest decision. Actually, it was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made. Both ends, everything lined up. It lined up to not stay where I was for a whole bunch of different reasons, and it lined up to go over there for a whole bunch of different reasons. It was just like it was really easy. This one, I’ve been fighting it as long as I can, because I’m like, ‘Man, once you’re done doing this, not many of us get to do this, especially at the top level.’ I think I fought it for a long time.
“Sometimes you can’t make your own decisions, so people make them for you. That’s unfortunate, because I wanted to make my own decisions. I felt like in a way I’ve earned that to be able to go out the way other drivers who had similar careers to dictate when your time is up. Anyway, I just came to the realization it’s probably time to go do something different.”
Kenseth joined JGR in 2013 after 13 seasons in NASCAR’s premier series with Roush, compiling 24 victories while making the playoffs eight times. The 2000 Cup rookie of the year also scored 26 Xfinity wins with the team, finishing runner-up in the standings in 1998-99. He ranks 20th on the all-time Cup wins list with 39.
Unlike larger teams, Front Row doesn’t yet have an optical scanning station at its shop to mimic this season’s new system for inspecting cars at the track. There is one available to teams at the NASCAR R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina,
“We went into it thinking, ‘We’ll never need to have one of those, NASCAR’s got one, we can go over there whenever we want,’ ” Freeze said.
The team also relies on the scanner located at Roush Fenway Racing. But it’s a challenge to take cars to Roush, with its shop also in Concord, nearly an hour away from Front Row’s base in Statesville.
Buying its own scanner is beginning to look like a “necessary evil” for Freeze, who said he’s heard it might cost at least $300,000 but would be worth the investment because teams need to check the cars many times through the building process.
“I think if you’re really going to try to optimize the car through each step of what you do, that might be the way to go,” Freeze said.
“It put it in a place where, yeah, it’s still pretty tough for Front Row to get to, but it’s not as high as it use to be,” Freeze said of the engine rule. “With spec radiators, we were spending $9,000 for radiator in the past. Now a spec radiator is, I don’t know, a third of that.”
Freeze also addressed the future of one of the team’s three charters, which is leased to TriStar Motorsports this season.
“You can’t do that forever with the way the rules are set up,” Freeze said. “We’ll have to make a decision, either we’ve got to operate (it) ourselves or maybe we sell it to TriStar some day, I don’t know. … Even though we weren’t in a position to run three cars and we’re still not today, it’s kind of nice to have in your pocket just in case something came along that was just phenomenal, and we needed one.”