Notes of Interest

● It’s Actually Quite Easy Being Green. Interstate Batteries is the founding partner for Joe Gibbs Racing with Interstate Batteries serving as the primary sponsor for at least one race on each of the four Toyotas fielded by JGR. This weekend is the first of two races the iconic Interstate Batteries brand will appear in the primary role for the No. 11 Toyota Camry XSE for Hamlin, with the other being the June 16 inaugural Cup Series event at Iowa Speedway in Newton.

● 52 and Counting. Hamlin enters the race at COTA as the most recent winner in NASCAR’s top series. He brought home the win in Sunday’s race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, the 52nd of his career, which puts him alone in 13th on the all-time Cup Series win list. Hamlin now sits two wins behind 12th-place Lee Petty, who has 54 all-time wins.

● Team Interstate Dominance at Bristol: Led by Denny Hamlin’s first win of the season, all four JGR drivers had impressive outings at Bristol Sunday afternoon. In fact, the Team Interstate drivers for Joe Gibbs Racing led 383 of the 500 laps Sunday, with Hamlin pacing the field for 163 laps, Ty Gibbs leading 137 laps, Truex at the point for 54 laps, and Christopher Bell leading 29 laps. Hamlin and Truex finished first and second with the other two JGR drivers joining them in the top-10 – Gibbs ninth and Bell 10th.

● Up Front: JGR Toyota Camry XSE’s have dominated the competition in each of the last two Cup Series races with back-to-back victories. Bell won at Phoenix Raceway two weekends ago in lead-up to Hamlin’s victory Sunday at Bristol. Like Bristol, Team Interstate drivers dominated the laps-led category at Phoenix, as well – a combined 230 of the 312 laps led. Combined with their 383 of the 500 laps led at Bristol, JGR drivers have led a whopping 613 of the 812 laps available at the last two events.

● On Point: With his aforementioned win on Sunday, Hamlin climbed to fifth in the NASCAR Cup Series driver standings with 173 points, just 12 out of first place. Through the first five races of 2024, he has one win and three top-10 finishes.

● On the Road Again. This weekend’s EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix is the first of five road-course races that make up the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series schedule. Hamlin has participated in all three Cup Series races that have taken place at the 3.426-mile circuit since the series started racing there in 2021. Hamlin won a stage during the 2022 race. His best result is the 14th-place finish he scored during the inaugural race in 2021.

●Road Racing History. Racing in Austin only tells part of Hamlin’s road-racing history. Since he started competing in the NASCAR Cup Series fulltime in 2006, he’s made a total of 50 starts on road courses. In those starts, Hamlin has one win – 2016 at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International – 14 top-five finishes and 21 top-10s. He’s led a total of 241 laps.

Denny Hamlin, Driver of the No. 11 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry XSE

What are your thoughts headed to Austin this weekend based on your past races there?

“First of all, I love the city of Austin, and the track is one of the best road courses we have on the circuit. It’s unfortunate that I haven’t run better than I have there. But what I enjoy about COTA is the challenge of it. Even though I’ve struggled, I feel optimistic every time I go there that I’ve learned something new and that it will equal speed and results when I get back there. I’m looking forward to it, I feel like we got better on the road courses last year. COTA was the first one last year and I took a step forward after that race and I feel like we made some gains, so I’m excited to see if we can put that all together with our Interstate Batteries Camry XSE this weekend. When you think of the beginning of Joe Gibbs Racing, you think of Interstate Batteries, so to have them on our car this weekend and in Iowa this summer, it’s always special. Would like nothing more than to get us back-to-back wins and doing it with Interstate Batteries on our car.”

How is racing at COTA and spending time in Austin received among your peers?

“The drivers love the venue. We’ve seen the fans come out in great numbers, and so anytime we see that, it shows the support of the fans and the drivers and we want to put on a great show for them. Love going there and it’s probably the same sentiment you will hear from most drivers. We are all looking forward to heading there this weekend and kind of kicking off the road-course season.”

NASCAR is moving the restart zone at COTA way back to the final turn coming onto the frontstretch. How do you feel about the change in location for the restart zone?

“I think they made a good adjustment there. Obviously last year was kind of a mess and the year before that as well where we were all piling into turn 1 and it just wasn’t a good look for anyone to be honest with you. All the drivers feel like if you do spread us out slightly more it will let us at least get the finish we deserve on that particular day as opposed to someone in 20th bowling ball their way up and taking out the fifth place guy and that was kind of what was happening on these late race restarts. That will break it up slightly for sure. We will still be in a pack into turn 1 but not to the extent it was last year. We made this adjustment at Indy last year and we thought it was a great adjustment there. I’m very optimistic with the changes that we are going to have a cleaner race.”

What will be the key to improving on your results from the past at COTA?

“I think just learning a lot from Tyler Reddick, honestly. He dominated the race there last year and he has a knack for how to race at that track. Just playing off of Tyler and seeing what he does and seeing what they have setup-wise and see if I can’t outrun them with our Interstate Batteries Camry this weekend.”

Can you speak to your evolution on the road courses?

“I think there have been a lot of factors. I think this is kind of the benefit of having one of the strongest road-course drivers in the Toyota family. I think there are many other Toyota drivers that are up-and-coming that are going to be challengers, as well, and I use any information that I can to try to get better. I know that I’m one of the lower talent guys on the road courses, so I just try to do everything I can to learn from them and try to use the resources that I have.”

Are we to the point of the season that we are starting to see trends?

“I think so. I think starting after last weekend at Bristol you can draw some sort of comparison on who is good to start the season, because we’ve gone to these tracks that are different, but if you have cars that are consistently running up front, no matter what the track, then clearly their team has some sort of process that is really, really good and bringing fast cars to the race track. I think you will be able to write some of those headlines on who is looking good the first part of the season, and then we will go through the summer and we will see some teams start to pick up their performance from there and start to peak right at the right time for the playoffs. You will definitely see some conclusions, but it doesn’t mean anything till the very end of the season.”