LEBANON, Tenn. (AP) — Denny Hamlin will lead the field to green at Nashville Superspeedway as he debuts a heat-fighting device for the first time in his career.
Sunday’s forecast calls for temperatures into the high 90s, which would bring the heat inside the race car closer to 125 degrees. It will likely be the hottest race yet this season and the first real heat test of NASCAR’s new Next Gen race car.
In his 17th full season, Hamlin has decided to try a “cool suit”, which is a fairly new trend in racing. The system stores cold water which is circulated through a small pump to deliver it into the shirt tubes around the driver.
“Normally I don’t fight heat as much as other guys. I do not know why. Probably because I’ve been doing it ten years longer than most of them,’ Hamlin said. “But for the first time all year, I’m wearing a cool suit, simply because why not take the luxury if you have it. (The heat) will definitely be a factor for some (Sunday).”
Hamlin got pole in Nashville when a surprise rain shower washed out the second round of qualifying on Saturday. The session was stopped just before the fastest 10 drivers were ready for their shootout.
Hamlin took pole in his No. 11 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, alongside Joey Logano in the No. 22 Ford for Team Penske. Gibbs and Penske are two of the elite Cup organizations that have struggled this year with the introduction of the new Next Gen stock car, an equalizer that has helped smaller teams compete.
Trackhouse Racing’s Daniel Suarez and Ross Chastain have both advanced to the second qualifying round and have taken three wins together this season.
Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott were third and fourth. Larson is the defending race winner and reigning cup champion.
Suárez, who this month achieved the first cup win of his career at Sonoma, starts fifth. Penske’s Ryan Blaney is sixth, followed by Chastain.
Kevin Harvick finished eighth for Stewart-Haas Racing followed by JGR teammates Christopher Bell and Martin Truex Jr., who announced that he will return to the team next year.
Bubba Wallace, with co-owner Michael Jordan watching the track, was fastest in Friday practice but wobbled slightly during his qualifying lap and will start 30th.
“I told him (Jordan) he should have stayed on the bus,” said Hamlin, who co-owns the team with Jordan. “He agreed. It’s busy. There’s a lot of pressure when he’s there.”
Kyle Busch had the worst day of the four Gibbs drivers: Busch spun on his lap and hit the wall, and he will start at the back of the field on Sunday.
Drivers are concerned about the heat for Sunday’s race. Logano first tried a cool shirt last race “and now I’m spoiled and never want to have it again.”
Larson has recently started using “Chillout Systems” and thinks he has the whole field covered when it comes to comfort in the heat.
“It works extremely well, it’s really cold,” said Larson, who made the switch to the new system because it’s warmer in the Next Gen stock car than the older model. Larson found that the cooling system he used last year is ineffective in the Next Gen.
“I needed more of it, I turned it on and I didn’t even feel a thing,” Larson said. “So we went to this new system and I highly recommend it for all the teams out there. The first time I tried it was during a test and it was freezing cold.”
He had to persuade crew chief Cliff Daniels (who has been suspended for the next four races due to a loose wheel on Larson’s car at Sonoma) to use the new system because, Larson said, it’s six pounds heavier and the extra weight needs to be put elsewhere on the road. car responsible.
“He didn’t want to put it in, but it started to get hot and I didn’t feel anything of my old system, so I was able to talk him into it,” Larson said. “And yes, it’s great. So I would have to cut some of the sales from now on.”
Chase Elliott, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, has yet to run a cooling system and said he would use mental toughness to get through Sunday.
“Just be outside, embrace the heat, be the heat, and tell yourself ‘It’s cold,'” Elliott said. “It’s about everything you can do. There are many options, but I think the best thing to do is embrace it and tell yourself it’s not hot.”
Logano wondered if physical fitness will come into play on Sunday and drivers best equipped to handle a hot day will battle it out for the win. He said sitting in the car is “like standing in front of a hair dryer. It’s very hot.”
When Suarez took his first Cup win, the Mexican driver celebrated by knocking a taco-shaped piñata off the top of his Chevrolet, spilling candy across the track surface at Sonoma Raceway.
When it came time for Trackhouse Racing to celebrate with its employees at their shop in North Carolina, the team co-owned Pitbull underhandedly pushed another taco piñata at Suarez, which he smashed with a club and spilled money all over the shop floor.
“I didn’t know piñata had money. They told me there was something in it. I lifted it at one point and it was heavy,” said Suarez. “Thanks to Pitbull for throwing the piñata the right way because if it wasn’t for him I’d probably miss it. But he threw it very, very good.”
Suarez teammate Chastain crushes watermelons after his victories in tribute to his family’s watermelon farm, so Suarez decided to put a piñata on his team truck about six weeks ago for when he finally takes his first cup win.
“That’s a big culture thing. Since I turned one year old and all the way up to 30, I’ve had a piñata for every birthday,” he said.
But after crushing the piñata that Pitbull had stuffed with money, Suarez was done enjoying his breakthrough win.
“That was the last holiday for me because that was the last day I could enjoy it with Pitbull and my team,” he said. “That night I thought about turning the page. I loved every second of it, but for me it’s a thing of the past. Now it’s time to get more.”
INSIDE NORTH WILKESBORO
Toyota has resumed its popular ‘Sponsafier’ campaign with three new commercials launched this weekend giving Kyle Busch his first look at North Wilkesboro Speedway in North Carolina.
The former Cup track has long been defunct, but Speedway Motorsports will begin renovations later this year and hope to host at least a Truck Series event in North Wilkesboro.
Toyota used brothers Kurt and Kyle Busch for a commercial called ‘Aliens’ and shot most of it in North Wilkesboro, which will reopen in August for late model races and then dirt races in October.
“It can be successful and it can turn into something fun,” said Kyle Busch. “So I’m looking forward to seeing them put something there. I think it would be sweet. It would be nice to see that place come back to life, and whether it’s an All-Star Race or a Truck Race or Xfinity, whatever, I think we can definitely make something happen there.”
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