The NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Star Race is always a little confusing, as the format changes almost every year. We spoke with 2015 winner Denny Hamlin ahead of Saturday’s All-Star Race, and he’s okay rolling with the changes.
Hamlin told us in a telephone interview this week:
I think [NASCAR is] searching for a great finish...but one thing’s for sure, it’s not from a lack of trying.
The problem is, we’ve had an aero package that makes the car so dominant that whoever gets out front just takes off and leaves. Now, it seems like, with the lower downforce, they may not need to tweak the format of the race quite as much as they needed to in years past.
Saturday’s All-Star Race consists of three segments culminating in a 13-lap dash to the end, where a random draw selects whether the first nine, 10 or 11 cars have to come in for a mandatory four-tire change. NASCAR is also slowing the cars down a bit to encourage closer racing.
For Hamlin, this race is now about strategy over everything:
Normally, we want to try to stay up front all the time, and give ourselves the best opportunity to start up front with [previous years’] ten-lap shootout to go.
Now they’re going to do an inversion-style format where they’re going to draw a number and a certain amount of cars will be starting in the back, but with fresher tires. We need to pull some different strategy depending on how our car is doing.
If we’re not in an accident, or we’re not up front, then we’ll have to put ourselves in a position where we can be up front for...that thirteen-lap shootout.
Hamlin is does a good job of putting his car in the right place at the right time, if the Daytona 500 was any indication. Hamlin told us how it felt to win the Daytona 500 by the closest margin in history:
I knew it was so close that it was going to take a while to figure out who had won. It was about 20 or 30 seconds later that it finally got transmitted to me that we had won, and it was a long 20 or 30 seconds, but it was really exciting to be part of a finish like that.
Obviously, it’s always good to be on the good end of that versus the other end, but for me, personally, it was the biggest win of my career. It’s just won of those prestige moments that you’re always going to remember, and obviously it was great to be part of the closest finish in history.
2016 has been the year of close finishes in NASCAR, and Hamlin says it’s largely thanks to the changes to the cars for this year.
A lot of it has to do with the rules package that they went to this year with the lower downforce on the cars. It puts the drivers a little more in it than what they’ve been in years past. It’s not all about the fastest car, so it gives us more influence and we’ve seen great finishes in races because of that, in my opinion.
It’s just a new era in NASCAR that’s going to continue great finishes like we’ve seen, really, almost every weekend.