Prepping for Talladega
From Denny Hamlin
FedEx Express Notes
Hamlin to Return at Talladega: Denny Hamlin will make his return to the #11 FedEx Express Toyota this weekend at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. Hamlin missed the last four Sprint Cup Series races while recovering from a back injury sustained in a last-lap incident at Auto Club (Calif.) Speedway on March 24. Exact plans for the FedEx Racing team at Talladega will be determined during the race weekend.
Richmond Recap: Brian Vickers drove the #11 FedEx Delivery Manager Toyota to a 35th place finish in last Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 on the short track of Richmond International Raceway, after a brake failure with three laps remaining sent the #11 FedEx machine into the wall and ended the team’s day. Kevin Harvick claimed the checkered flag in the caution-filled race on the three-quarter-mile oval, followed by Clint Boywer, Joey Logano, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jeff Burton. The race marked the fourth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event with Vickers filling in for Hamlin. Starting second next to teammate Matt Kenseth, the early part of the race went well for the FedEx team. Despite a slightly loose race car, Vickers piloted the #11 car near the front of the pack. Adjustments to the handling under the first few caution flags were unable to correct the issues. Crew Chief Darian Grubb brought the car in after the fourth caution flag on lap 157, making the strategic decision to give up some track position to make additional adjustments to the chassis. The car proved more difficult to correct than expected and the team continued to slide. More bad luck came late in the race, as contact entering pit road with less than 100 laps remaining required repairs, followed by an on-track incident on lap 337, when the #11 car sustained heavy front and rear damage.
Kyle Busch Quotes
What is a typical plan for the entire race weekend once you get to Talladega?
“It’s different for everybody but, for us, we just kind of go out there and definitely get in the first pack in practice because the first pack is always the biggest, so you have to be ready when practice first starts. You just kind of feel out your car and see what it’s doing. Is it into the racetrack? Is it on top of the racetrack? Are you sliding around too much? We know the heat this weekend will be something we’re going to have to look for with engine temperature, as well as just tire temperatures and kind of sliding around. The track surface is another year older. So, with all that stuff in mind, you just figure out how your car’s driving and work on it from there. We had some things we wanted to continue to try to feel out and get better with, so we sometimes run some of the second session where other guys feel like they’re good in the first one and just quit. You definitely don’t want to take a chance on wrecking your car, and you don’t want to be put in a weird spot out there and have somebody get together in front of you and you drive into it and crash a racecar. You want to get through practice by checking out to see what you have, but not getting it torn up, either. Qualifying doesn’t mean a whole lot so, wherever you start, you just want to make sure your racecar checks out in practice and you are ready to race 500 miles.”
Are superspeedways more mentally draining than other racetracks?
“At Talladega, the physical demand isn’t that big of deal. You can run around there all day long and not break a sweat, really. Once you get down into the nitty gritty of the race and try to play the chess game at the end of the race, you’ve got to really pick and choose your spots and think all the time if you go here and team up with this guy. It really wears on you a little bit, mentally. I would say Talladega is 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical, while most other non-restrictor-plate races are 80 percent physical and 20 percent mental. Both races there last year, we survived the big wreck but just came up short both times, so I’m hoping to be in position with our M&M’s Camry on Sunday to give it another shot at the win.”
What is the key to pulling off a victory at Talladega?
“The key there is to somehow stay out of trouble. You pretty much stay around the bottom since there is a lot of grip there, and you can pretty much run wide open every single lap. Everyone can run up on top of each other. When you get single file at the bottom, sometimes it’s hard to get a lane on the outside with enough good cars to get something going. It can be frustrating at times because of that. It also seems to still put on a good race each time we go there. If you can be a contender and stay in line on the bottom, you can make it a pretty easy and safe race. Normally, guys are not content doing that, so that’s when it starts to get crazy.”
Is it an advantage being a former winner at Talladega?
“It doesn’t matter at all. It’s such a crapshoot there in the last 20, 30 or 40 laps that you never really know who is going to win, what’s going to happen and where the wreck is going to come from.”
Kyle Busch: A Birthday Wish
What to get a guy for his birthday who seemingly has everything?
If that guy happens to be Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), who is the owner of 26 first-place trophies in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition and 111 winner’s trophies in all among NASCAR’s top three series, the answer is quite simple – more trophies.
Busch blows out the candles to celebrate his 28th birthday Thursday and will hope to carry the celebration on to victory lane at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway as the winner of Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Aaron’s 499.
Even though his 28th birthday doesn’t fall on race day this time around, Busch has won on his birthday before. He became only the second driver in Sprint Cup history to celebrate a victory on his birthday with a win at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway on May 2, 2009, a feat first accomplished by Cale Yarborough – twice. Yarborough won on his March 27 birthday at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway in 1977 and at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1983. Since then, Busch’s JGR teammate Matt Kenseth equaled the feat as he won earlier this year on his March 10 birthday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
While winning any race is always a birthday bonus, Busch got a head start on partaking of some birthday dessert when he stayed over an extra day following Saturday’s race at Richmond to film a segment for the afternoon talk and cooking show “The Chew.” Busch gave some pointers to renowned chefs and show hosts Mario Batali and Michael Symon on how to get around Richmond’s three-quarter-mile oval in his M&M’s Camry. Batali and Symon were also able to return the favor as they cooked an M&M’s Banana Skillet Cake in the track’s victory lane. The segment is scheduled to air Friday at 1 p.m. EDT on local ABC network affiliates.
As for this weekend, Busch has conquered the mammoth Talladega oval just once in 16 career starts at the track, his lone win coming in April 2008. Busch has accumulated five other top-15 finishes at the track but also exited five outings early due to accidents.
The Las Vegas native returns to Talladega having narrowly missed out on a victory last May at the 2.66-mile superspeedway when Busch and eventual race winner Brad Keselowski broke away from the pack on the final lap. As Busch pushed Keselowski, he had hoped to dive to the inside as they hit the frontstretch toward the checkered flag. But, as the duo entered turn three, Busch lost the draft behind Keselowski’s rear bumper, and all he could do was ride it out to the checkered flag a short distance behind the eventual Sprint Cup champion. In last year’s fall Talladega race, Busch narrowly escaped a 25-car accident to pull off a strong third-place finish.
With those recent results still fresh on his mind, Busch knows the winner of Sunday’s 500-mile race will not only need to have a strong car, but must be in the right place at the right time during the final laps on NASCAR’s longest track. So, if anyone is considering what to get Busch as a belated birthday gift, any help earning a second career Talladega trophy would be greatly appreciated.
From Matt Kenseth
“The key to success at superspeedways is always to have a fast car. We had a really great car to start off the year in the Daytona 500, and led a lot of laps, so I feel really good heading into Talladega this weekend. There haven’t been any rules changes since Daytona so I think it’s going to be a track position race. I also think that strategy; including pit stops and restarts are going to be important for getting our No. 20 into the right spot. We learned a lot at Daytona and hopefully we’ll see more of that speed again out of all three of our JGR Toyotas this weekend at Talladega.”
From Jason Ratcliffe, Crew Chief
“I’m looking forward to Talladega. You don’t ever know if you’re going to bring your car back in one piece, but when we left Daytona, I was really excited about our speedway program. Our cars were good and TRD did a great job with the engines as far as horsepower. All of our JGR cars qualified better than we had in the past. We ran up front all weekend at Daytona, so based on all that, I’m really excited heading into this weekend.”
No. 20 Home Depot Husky Toyota News & Notes:
- JOE GIBBS RACING AT TALLADEGA: Joe Gibbs Racing has 87 Sprint Cup Series starts at Talladega Superspeedway and has earned three wins, 25 top-five, and 38 top-ten finishes. The organization also has led for a total of 836 laps and has an average start of 17.5 and an average finish of 16.4 at the 2.66-mile track.
- KENSETH BY THE NUMBERS: In 26 Sprint Cup Series career starts at Talladega Superspeedway, Matt Kenseth has an average finish of 18.0, has completed 4,631 of 4,924 (94.0 percent) career laps, and has led for a total of 294 laps. Kenseth’s first win at the track was last year in October of 2012.
- RACE FEVER: On Friday, May 3rd, Kenseth will visit the Race Fever event at the International Motorsports Hall of Fame which benefits the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind. He will participate in a Q&A session as well as sign autographs for the students in attendance.
- RACE INFO: The Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway (2.66-mile) begins at 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday, May 5th. The race will be broadcast live on FOX, Sirius XM Channel 90 and MRN Radio.