Friday, September 21, 2012

New Hampshire Practice Notes: Hamlin Sweeps Every Practice Session

Denny Hamlin fastest in all three practice sessions (Getty)
By Micah Roberts

Denny Hamlin completed the rare triple sweep during practices this weekend at New Hampshire by being the fastest in all three sessions. Hamlin's fast lap at 132.053 mph in the last half of the final 60-minute session was good enough to pass teammate Joey Logano for the top slot.

There is no cash reward or trophy for being fastest during the sessions, just the peace of mind knowing that none of the 42 cars are as fast. For Hamlin, dominating the practices couldn't have come at a better time because of the pressure he placed upon himself following a disappointing Chicago race by tweeting, "This is 1 week of 10. We will win next week." So far, so good.

Hamlin will have to start Sunday's Sylvania 300 from the 32nd position because of an error in the qualifying setup Friday, but should have no problem making up the ground. We've seen him do well on the similar flat tracks this season at Richmond and Phoenix, and in the July New Hampshire race, he led 150 laps and finished runner-up.

Not surprisingly, the top speeds during Saturday's practices came from the Toyotas when every driver from the teams of Michael Waltrip and Joe Gibbs Racing finished in the top seven. In the four races this year at Richmond, Phoenix and New Hampshire, three were won from a driver within those stables.

New Hampshire Practice 3 Speeds 

Hamlin Fastest Again in Second Session, Gordon looks Strong

By Micah Roberts

Denny Hamlin laid down the fastest lap during Saturday’s early practice session at New Hampshire with a top speed of 131.656 mph. Hamlin was fastest in Friday’s lone session while in qualifying trim, but when it was his turn to qualify as one of the favorites to win the pole, Hamlin’s team didn’t have the correct set-up and he’ll start Sunday’s race 32nd. He has a lot of ground to make up, but should take comfort in the fact that his car is real fast.

Joey Logano was second fastest in the session, followed by Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch .One of Logano’s two career wins came at New Hampshire in 2009. Johnson is a three-time winner at New Hampshire.

All three Joe Gibbs racing cars finished in the top-5 during the session. When adding sixth fastest Brian Vickers and seventh fastest Clint Bowyer, we have six of the seven fastest cars being Toyota’s.

Jeff Gordon was ninth fastest during the session, but had the fastest 10-consecutive lap average showing signs that his good run on the similar track of Richmond two weeks ago may come into play this week. Bowyer and Logano were next best in the 10-consecutive lap category.

Aric Almirola ran the most laps (39) of the 60-minute session while finishing with the 20th fastest lap.

Hamlin Fastest in Friday's Practice Session

By Micah Roberts

Jeff Gordon won the pole Friday (Getty)
Denny Hamlin tweeted to the world following the disappointment of last weeks 16th-place finish, "This is 1 week of 10. We will win next week."

During Friday’s first practice session in preparation for Sunday’s Sylvania 300, he took the first step in backing up his words by laying down the fastest lap. Hamlin’s speed of 134.820 mph was in qualifying trim, which should make him one of favorites to win Friday’s pole, but it also keeps him as the favorite to win Sunday’s race, just as he said he would.

We don’t see many NASCAR drivers make statements like Hamlin did last week just because it’s so hard to make good with so many different things occurring that are out of the drivers control. It’s surely harder than calling a home run in baseball, as Babe Ruth allegedly did the World Series at Wrigley Field, and it might rest below The Jets beating the Colts as 17-point underdogs in Super Bowl III, but whatever the case is, I’m loving it.

It’s a long Chase with nine races to go, but I like that Hamlin is psyching himself out and setting himself up with some lofty goals. The thing about it, though, is that he’s not really going out on a limb. He is the driver to beat at New Hampshire, as his 8.5 average finish attests to. And despite being listed as the third choice to win the Chase in recent Vegas odds, he’s still got the best skill-set/past preformance combination of car, driver and crew chief among all the drivers at the remaining nine tracks.

So maybe even as great a home run hitter as the Bambino was, hitting a called home run might have been more difficult than Hamlin winning at New Hampshire this week. And in Ruth‘s case, it‘s debatable if it even happened, as some baseball historians have discounted the feat as a fable.

Jeff Gordon was second fastest in the 90-minute session at 134.174 mph, followed by Regan Smith, Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick.

Because we have two more practice sessions Saturday, and most of the top times were from drivers in qualifying trim, I don’t put much weight into today’s session, other than acknowledging drivers who were fast in single lap times. Only two drivers ran at least 10 consecutive laps.

The average speeds are distorted because some drivers ran as high as 39 laps like Brian Vickers -- who I like this week, while others contending, such as Brad Keselowski, ran only 11 laps.

I’ll have a full run-down Saturday with what drivers I thought looked most impressive.

New Hampshire Practice 1 Speeds

Gordon on Pole at New Hampshire - Starting Lineup

DENNY HAMLIN ON WHAT HAPPENED DURING HIS QUALIFYING LAP (STARTS 32ND): “I knew something was wrong. It looked like we just — we ended up having race pressures and we didn’t put our qualifying pressures in, so that was a tough one. I knew something was really, really wrong because we were just — the car was bobbing down real bad — but simple mistake. We’ll rebound from it. We’re quick enough. We’ll get them, but that’s frustrating. Holy cow — I knew something had to be wrong. If there was nothing wrong than I would really be shaking my head. At least we identified what the problem was.”

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