For Virginia native Denny Hamlin, a trip to Richmond is like coming home. Hamlin grew up in Chesterfield, Virginia, less than 25 miles from Richmond International Raceway, and has taken to his hometown track like a duck to water.
Despite early season success of winning the Daytona 500 and two additional top-five finishes in the first five races of 2016, Hamlin and his No. 11 team have been struggling through the month of April, having yet to score a finish higher than 12th in the three races that have taken place at Martinsville, Texas, and Bristol.
With a trip back home to Richmond for the Toyota Owners 400 on the horizon this weekend, Hamlin and his team have a chance to rebound and turn things around with a strong finish on the 0.75 mile short track. Of all of the tracks on the circuit, Richmond ranks as the fifth-best for Hamlin as his early success at the track has taken a hit in recent years.
Overall, Hamlin has two wins (2009 and 2010), seven top-five finishes, 10 top-10 finishes, two poles, 1404 laps led, and an average finish of 10.8 in 19 starts. However, only one of those top-10 finishes has come in the last six races at the track, with a sixth place finish last fall and finishes ranging from 18th to 22nd in the five races prior. Nonetheless, Hamlin still looks forward to reclaiming his lost glory in front of his hometown fans.
“Obviously, there’s a little more pressure whenever we race at Richmond, a track I grew up going to races at and watching from the grandstands. There will be a lot of family and friends in attendance, and it always provides a little extra motivation. I’m encouraged after our performance at Phoenix earlier this year, another flat, short track, that we can translate that to success at Richmond. It’ll be interesting to see how the track responds now that it’s a day race, but that usually plays into our FedEx team’s strengths,” said Hamlin.
Along with the chance to make up for his recent struggles at the track, Hamlin also chimed in on the switch from the spring race at Richmond being a night race to a day race for the first time since 1997.
“I’m excited about it. Day races always make for great racing. The hotter the temperature is the more (tire) fall off. Really extremely pleased so far with what we’ve seen with the aero package and really the tire that’s gone with it. The aero has gotten all of the credit for the great racing this year and the great finishes, but that aero has allowed Goodyear to make some adjustments and give us a tire that we’ve been looking for for a long time. It’s really been a collaboration of both and that’s why you’ve seen such great finishes so far and I would think that will stay the same when we get to Richmond, especially now that we have a day race. It goes back to the old days. I remember coming here many times as a fan and it used to be a day race, so I’m looking forward to it. I love day races and obviously it’s going to be a pretty exciting one because I feel like our FedEx team has a good chance to win.”
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