RICHMOND, Va. — Denny Hamlin has gotten accustomed to having Sundays off when NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series comes to Richmond International Raceway, where the premier series has traditionally raced under the lights on Saturday night.
The track moved its spring race for this year to Sunday afternoon, hoping that racing during the day would be more appealing to families with young children, and Hamlin and others thinks they might be in for a treat.
“I like having Sundays off every now and then, but I think it’s definitely going to put on a great show for sure,” Hamlin, who grew up about 25 minutes from the track, said “This race track, it does change a lot during the day. Sunday afternoon the weather looks good and I’m just encouraged to go out here and have a good race.”
Hamlin has won twice on the 0.75-mile oval, but not since 2010, and paid a visit to Richmond about a month ago to do a tire test, which he said will figure very prominently in his bid to change his luck in Sunday’s race.
“We have a tire that lays some rubber down here at this race track so we did have to change some things in our car and I was pretty happy with it. Overall, we’ll lean on that test more so than past information,” he said.
The tire wear quickly costs the drivers speed, and pole-sitter Kevin Harvick expects that to make things interesting on what is expected to be a warm day with the track bathing in sunshine. Harvick earned the pole with the fastest times in Friday’s rain-shortened practice, and his fastest laps came during his first few circuits.
“It will be interesting just for the fact that the second and third times out weren’t near what the first time was because the tires fall off, which is great,” he said. “And I think it will be exciting for the race to see where the falloff goes and, being in the day, there are a lot of things that lead toward a fun day from the driver’s seat.
“Hopefully it will be fun to watch.”
Joey Logano, starting second, expects the product to be better in the sunshine.
“I think it is really nice that usually when the track is warm and the sun is beating on it that it takes more rubber and the track gets wider. When the track is wider it puts on a better race, in my opinion,” he said.
Harvick made just nine laps on Friday, and then was the fourth fastest on Saturday during an 80-minute final practice, when he made 87 laps. Jimmie Johnson was the fastest, followed by Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch.
Tony Stewart, who will make his season debut Sunday after missing the first eight races while recovering from a back injury, made just 64 laps on Saturday after leading all drivers by making 38 in Friday’s session.
Hamlin, who won the season-opening Daytona 500, was 11th in practice Saturday, making him the slowest among the four cars in the red-hot Joe Gibbs Racing stable. JGR drivers have won three last three races, with Busch winning back-to-back at Martinsville and Texas and Carl Edwards winning last weekend at Bristol.
Edwards was fifth fastest in practice, with teammate Matt Kenseth right behind him.
Hamlin credits teamwork with helping JGR win half of the eight races run so far this season.
“We’re all learning from each other every single week and it’s just raising everyone’s game quite a bit. I think everything is kind of clicking really well, everyone at (Toyota Racing Development) is doing a really good job of providing us the technology that we need to go fast. Every department within JGR is clicking really, really well right now,” Hamlin said, adding that having Martin Truex Jr. working with the JGR cars has also helped.