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Denny Hamlin: "We Can't Just Continue to Ignore the Short Tracks"

Denny Hamlin has had enough with lackluster racing at short track races in the NASCAR Cup Series and feels NASCAR and Goodyear should hire Dale Earnhardt Jr. to help find an optimal tire compound.


hero image for Denny Hamlin: "We Can't Just Continue to Ignore the Short Tracks"

While it probably won't be a popular opinion, Sunday's Cook Out 400 at Martinsville Speedway was probably the best race at the 0.526-mile paperclip since the inception of the Next Gen car in 2022. Before I get stabbed with pitchforks, I want to be clear, that doesn't necessarily mean that the race was good.

Sure, the race was better than the previous Next Gen races at Martinsville, but Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series race didn't show nearly enough improvement for anyone to feel that the status quo at short tracks is good enough, anymore. Something needs to change, and Denny Hamlin is one of the most vocal proponents of it.

"We can't just continue to ignore the short tracks," Hamlin stated on this week's Actions Detrimental with Denny Hamlin before launching into a tirade about the problems with the short track racing in the NASCAR Cup Series.

While NASCAR envisioned unparalleled parity with the Next Gen car, the sanctioning body is now facing unexpected issues at short tracks and road courses with the unprecedented parity that we've seen in the NASCAR Cup Series ranks.

"I don't know how we back that train up because I think what NASCAR's goal with this car has been is for parity," Hamlin explained. "They've publicly said, 'We want parity,' I'm clapping my hands because it has been achieved. 100%, parity has been achieved in NASCAR in the sense that everything is the same.

"You've made the drivers the same, you've made the cars the same, and now everyone runs the same speed. But now what? These are the unintended consequences you have with parity. No one is going to be able to pass, and you Twitter trolls that come at me and say, 'Well, William Byron passed,' it took him 400 [expletive] laps. And he needed some pit cycles and things to happen. We couldn't even pass Austin Dillon for 50 or 60 laps. The last car on the racetrack, we could not pass him at the end of Stage 2."

Hamlin says with the Next Gen car being essentially a kit car, where everyone has the exact same equipment, and the drivers all being able to check out one another's SMT data to see how they are driving to maximize the car's performance, it's created a dynamic where everyone is driving nearly the same speed every weekend.

Which is good on paper, but on the race track, it leads to a bunch of cars running around not being able to pass each other like we've seen in recent short track events.

And while teams are all running the same speed, Hamlin feels we are now to a point where teams have the car figured out enough to where the same group of drivers and teams will be the ones in victory lane at short track races for the foreseeable future unless something changes.

"When we used to go in 2021, the results were, 'man we had all of these different winners and everything,' yeah, because teams were out in left-field. They didn't know the car yet. So, you would have a team, a dark horse team hit it one weekend and win. Those days are over," Hamlin emphasized. "Those days are done. You're going to have the same eight to nine guys win every week from here on out. Just because they have the most resources, they have the best pit crews, they have the best drivers."

If dark horse teams run faster lap times each week, but still don't get the results, or occasional race wins, is parity really parity? It's a real concern.

While Hamlin, and the Joe Gibbs Racing team he drives for are among the sport's elite, Hamlin would have a vested interest in making sure the top dogs stay unbeatable. However, Hamlin understands that the status quo isn't acceptable for the long-term health of the sport.

"If we sit back and do nothing, then shame on us," Hamlin said. "We deserve whatever is coming to us in the long run."

While everyone has suggested over the last 12 months that NASCAR attempt increasing horsepower to improve the show at short tracks, NASCAR has continued to attempt to make adjustments to the aerodynamic package to attempt to achieve the results of a better race.

Hamlin is tired of it.

"Until you make a horsepower, or tire, or shifting change, you will have the same result," Hamlin explained. "You're right. We keep tinkering with aerodynamics. I'm sorry, we're running 45 miles per hour in the middle [of the corners] at Martinsville. It's not aerodynamics. It's a horsepower-to-tire ratio, and until we get that through our thick skulls, it will remain the same. But it will have to come from the high-ups at NASCAR to say, 'Fine, we're done. We've seen parity, and we don't like it.'"

Horsepower isn't the only answer though. Hamlin also feels Goodyear is to blame just as much as NASCAR for the current state of short track racing.

"There's not enough [tire] falloff. I was running practice, and my fastest lap was a 20.20. Okay, when I left practice running 50-something laps, my last lap was a 20.55. Three and a half tenths? We'll never [expletive] pass," Hamlin shouted. "Never. It just keeps getting worse. It used to be seconds. And now we've tightened it all up. The left side tires, don't even get me started. Goodyear is so far off on left side tires."

Hamlin feels an increase in horsepower, and a better left-side tire compound, which actually falls off over the course of a run, would do wonders for the short track product. And the driver of the No. 11 Toyota Camry has a proposal for how to get a new tire compound figured out for Richmond and Martinsville.

"NASCAR has their own Next Gen car. It's the one they originally started with. You need to get NASCAR and their team -- this should not fall on the teams to pay for fixing this -- get NASCAR's car, and get Dale Jr. Get him to go to Richmond, and get him to go to Martinsville and test tires," Hamlin proposed. "He gets to pick out the tire we run. It'll be great publicity. This is Dale Jr.'s tire, let's see how it does. I think he would sign up in two seconds to go out there because he's angry about the tire as much as I am. He brings it up just as much as I do. But clearly, we are missing the mark. Goodyear is missing the mark."

Hamlin points to Bristol Motor Speedway, which had accidental high levels of tire fall off as a prime example of how short track racing could be saved by tire fall off.

"We clearly know, that having a tire that falls off -- we've seen it. Bristol gave us the evidence that says, this is better. Now, did it need to go to that extreme? No. But we damn sure shouldn't have a car leading the race with 180 laps on his left-side tires. That is ridiculous," Hamlin said.

It's obvious that Hamlin is passionate about the subject of short track racing, but he's not the only one. From current and former drivers to media members to content creators, and fans, seemingly everyone has weighed in on the topic this week.

The overwhelming consensus is that NASCAR needs to fix the short track racing product. The only question; when will they?

Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

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