NASCAR’s Denny Hamlin: Road-course victory was a challenge

Denny Hamlin celebrates in Victory Lane after winning Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International in Watkins Glen, N.Y.
Denny Hamlin celebrates in Victory Lane after winning Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International in Watkins Glen, N.Y. AP

Denny Hamlin finally won on a road course on Sunday, when he beat Joey Logano at the Cheez-It 355 At The Glen at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International.

Hamlin spoke with reporters and the Observer’s David Scott after the race about the different nature of road-course racing, his ailing back and being able to close out races like Watkins Glen and the Daytona 500 (which he won in February):

Q. Does it feel as aggressive and crazy for you as it does for the rest of us watching on the road-course races?

A. It does. There are so many opportunities. You can see the leader right there in front of you, even if you’re in eighth place.

You’re trying to dive into the corners, do everything you can to make a move. The track is barely wide enough … it’s a one-lane racetrack. When you go to pass, you have to force somebody out of the way or they have to give you the spot. When they don’t, it makes for very exciting wrecks.

Q. Has that changed recently?

A. It just seems like really over the last five years or so, the road courses have taken a turn to be more aggressive. I think it has a lot to do with the Chase format, guys seeing this as a-win-and-you’re-in type format. It’s your opportunity when they really don’t have cars that are competitive on the other racetracks.

I think that lends itself a little bit to it. But, yeah, I can see it on the track, for sure. It looks from my cockpit just like it does on TV.

Q. Do you know why your back was hurting during the race?

A. I don’t know what causes it. It just happens every now and then. It’s never happened on a race day, for sure. Usually I’m in the car and things get looser as the weekend goes on.

Really, I haven’t had back problems in the past four to five years. It’s all subsided pretty well. I’ve got a pretty good routine that I do during the week that helps with that.

But (this time), I slept wrong, or something. Woke up and knew I was in pretty big trouble. We worked on it all day to try to make it better. We really didn’t make it much better.

It was by far the worst conditions I’ve ever had to drive in, over the knee (injuries), anything else. It didn’t get any better throughout the day. Trust me, I’m sitting there, even though I’m overjoyed that we’re leading the race, I was thinking under the red flag, ‘Let’s get this over with so I can get out of this car.’

Q. What can you do about it?

A. I’ll continue to go to work on it and try to get in the gym and try to make things a little bit better overall. I have missed my routine because I’ve had to travel over the last few weeks. I kind of got off sequence of my routine that’s helped my back. It will go away.

Q. In both of your victories this year, there was a common thread: At a key moment, you responded to something the leader or leaders did and pulled it off. You would probably rather lead every lap and make it nice and boring.

A. I’d rather lead the final lap, that makes it more exciting.

Q. You must be encouraged that at that crucial moment you were able to seize on that both times?

I am. Honestly, it’s more validating because I feel so awful.There were many corners that I under-drove just because my feel wasn’t as good today in the race car. That’s how we feel the edge, through our backside. When our backside is not healthy, it’s tough. That’s what made it extra special, is that when it was game time, when it was go time, we got it done.