NASCAR's Denny Hamlin not buying into his podium finish at Richmond
For Denny Hamlin, a trip home to Virginia and Richmond International Raceway resulted in a third-place finish Sunday and perhaps temporarily alleviated some of his struggles to open the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
The result was his first top 5 of the season and catapulted him from 16th to 11th in the championship standings. However, even though Hamlin was satisfied with the result, he doesn’t think Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing are back to their usual standard just yet.
“I think that some of the issues that you might have with speed is masked just a little bit on a short track, so by no means does this indicate that we’ve fixed anything,” Hamlin said. “I think we know that we have some shortfalls, and when I’m running out front my balance is very, very good, where I need it to be, and we just don’t have a car that was quite fast enough.
“Aerodynamics matter, skew matters, things like that, and we’re just a little behind. So we’ve got to just take solace in some small wins and goals, and today was a good finish.”
In fact, Hamlin isn’t willing to take anything from this weekend into the rest of the season — especially to the intermediate length downforce tracks that dominate the schedule.
“We haven’t gotten better,” Hamlin said. “We’re really right where we were. I mean, if we go to a mile and a half next week, we’re just as far off as what we were a week ago. Literally it’s just a short track, and so (the) driver can make a little bit more difference in aerodynamics and skew, and all that stuff doesn’t matter quite as much, but it’s still an issue for us.”
“You’ve still got to have raw speed. You cannot just have a better setup than those guys and go out and beat them.”
Hamlin is aware that he came across as pessimistic, but he wanted to make clear to himself, the team and those who observe these races the state of the team.
“You know, I’m optimistic,” he said. “I hate to be pessimistic about today, but we’ve got to be real about it and realize, hey, it’s just a short track. We still have a lot of work to do to catch up. “
To his point, Hamlin has finishes of 38th, sixth, 14th and 25th on those downforce tracks. His short track finishes are 10th, 30th, 10 and third. That validates his lack of awe.
“I’m not really worried,” Hamlin said. “It’s just frustrating. I knew going into today that we were at a disadvantage before we even rolled off pit road. But you’ve got to just do everything you can to fight as hard as you can and maybe the chips would fall just perfectly for us, but they didn’t, and we still had a good finish.
“I’m optimistic that we know where we need to be, and we’ll be there soon-ish.”