By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
Pit road speeding penalties seem to have been a thorn in the side of Denny Hamlin’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in recent years. Some of the speeding penalties have cost the driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry victories and top-10 finishes, while some have also kept Hamlin out of trouble.
It has been reported that the Joe Gibbs Racing driver has accumulated 51 speeding penalties since his debut in 2005. The statistics show that Hamlin is penalized in 11.4 percent of the Premier Series races that he has competed in.
Hamlin pointed out that he is not the only driver to earn speeding penalties, and that others lead the category
“Well, I’m the most publicized. No, I am not leading in that category. There are people that have more penalties in that category than I do. It’s just pushing the issue. I’m trying for every little edge that you can, knowing how hard it is to pass nowadays. Especially, it seems like with this splitter configuration that we have, it seems harder to pass this year than is has in years past.”
In three races this season, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, Hamlin has been busted for speeding on pit road under green. In all three races, he was relegated to finishes well outside the top-10, including a 34th-place finish after getting caught in a multi-car accident at Texas.
“What’s hurt me the most is that my speeding penalties have been under green flag conditions which has then put us back a lap,” Hamlin explained. “If it comes under caution, you just go to the back. You usually can make that up. We haven’t had any since Talladega, so we’re cleaning that up. We just have to get a little bit better speed wise. We’re focusing on what we can do to make our cars better, drive correctly. So, I can do what I need to do in them.”
However, speeding penalties do not always fall on the driver alone. Each speeding penalty is unique. With innovations such as the digital dash, the crew chief and the team does have impact on the end result.
Hamlin’s crew chief, Mike Wheeler, explained that each of the three speeding penalties this season have a different root cause,
“The ones this year have actually been three separate entities with what happened. I would blame the first one on him just being aggressive on rolling his lights and rolling pit road speed. He hit a bump, and it kind of jumbled the engine a little bit, just too fast.”
“One of them,” Wheeler continued, “I would blame on the crew and myself as much as anything else, just being overaggressive. Denny hit his marks and we were just too aggressive on lights. The weather change at Texas, it was actually cold there, we practiced it, and it got hot the next day, and that changed just enough to where we got caught. So, we learned a lesson.
“At Talladega it was that he was racing on entry of pit road for the lead. He knew that if he beat Joey Logano off of pit road that it would be easier for him to win that race. So, he was trying, coming in second, trying to get in there first, he got caught. Yeah, there’s speeding penalties, and the they all look the same on a sheet, but they’re all a little bit different.”
This weekend, the series heads to the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway for the Pocono 400. With the track’s length and unique layout, green flag penalties are not a race-ending penalty compared to other tracks. Hamlin, Wheeler and their team will now look to avoid speeding on pit road while also rekindling some magic at the site of Hamlin’s first win.