When Martin Truex Jr. leaves his full-time ride in the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota at the end of the season, his teammate, Denny Hamlin, will inherit the mantle of oldest driver in the NASCAR Cup Series.

With Truex’s exit, all the drivers whom Hamlin conquered for rookie-of-the-year honors in 2006 will be gone from NASCAR’s top series. That list includes Truex, Clint Bowyer, J.J. Yeley, David Stremme and Reed Sorenson.

“There was such a big rookie class back in 2006,” said Hamlin, who will turn 44 on Nov. 18. “Everyone’s gone… everyone’s gone. Martin was just a barometer for success and speed when we were coming into the Cup Series.

“Man, it certainly doesn’t feel like I’m the oldest, but I guess, when you put it all in perspective and see these guys peel off, I certainly feel it, but my mind doesn’t make me believe that I’m the oldest.”

In announcing his departure from full-time Cup racing on Friday, Truex cited a strong desire to pursue personal interests and set his own schedule. Hamlin, who co-owns 23XI Racing with former NBA superstar Michael Jordan in addition to his driving duties for JGR, feels no such impulse.

“When I think of Martin, we couldn’t be more opposite, but there’s no one that I envy probably more than him,” Hamlin said. “He’s just that type of person — I wish I could be like that, but I couldn’t be more opposite.

“That’s him, the way he carries himself, the way he does business. I put the work load on myself that I do. I think that Martin really enjoys his ‘down’ time. To me, I don’t like down time. I like to stay busy, and I like to keep working. It just depends on what I’m working on in that moment.

“I hate to sit around being bored, but some people love that, and that’s their way of getting passionate about going to the race track every weekend. Everyone’s different, but certainly he’s in a spot where he’s weighed the pros and the cons, and he just got to the point where the pros of not (racing full-time) outweighed sticking around.”

Tire issues in Friday’s practice took Christopher Bell by surprise

Joe Gibbs Racing driver Christopher Bell represented the Toyota contingent in a Goodyear tire test at Iowa Speedway on May 28.

In temperatures that were approximately 14 degrees cooler than those that greeted drivers during Friday’s practice, Bell had no issues with the tire combination chosen for Sunday’s Iowa Corn 350 (7 p.m. ET on USA, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Bell’s No. 20 Toyota was fast off the truck to start the 50-minute session, posting the fastest lap early in the session. But after 19 circuits, Bell’s right-front tire suddenly lost air, and his car slammed the outside wall.

Earlier, Bell’s teammate, Ty Gibbs, had suffered the same issue with the right front but managed to avoid hard contact with the SAFER barrier.

Bell said he had no warning that the tire failure was imminent.

“My only indication was whenever I saw Ty have a flat,” said Bell, who will start from the rear of the field in a backup car. “That was it.

“I didn’t have any indication in the car. We were just here — what, a month ago? — and did 50-lap runs all day long and had no issues at all. It caught me off-guard, and I know it caught my team off-guard as well.”

Tire issues weren’t confined to the Gibbs cars. Austin Cindric also will start the race in a backup No. 2 Ford after hard contact with the outside wall. The Toyota of Tyler Reddick and Chevrolet of Ross Chastain also sustained flats without damaging their cars, though Chastain’s Camaro needed the new dolly system to remove it from the track.

“They said, ‘We’re going to put you on the dolly,’ and I said, ‘What’s a dolly?’” Chastain said. “They got the thing out, snapped it together, and the car’s not torn up.”

Brad Keselowski cites importance of three “T’s” — and one of them isn’t tires

Though the new pavement in the bottom two lanes in the corners at Iowa Speedway has sparked enormous interest in the inaugural NASCAR Cup Series race at the 0.875-mile track, Brad Keselowski cited other factors that will determine whether NASCAR weekend will be a success.

Taking a page from legendary Charlotte Motor Speedway promoter H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler, Keselowski pointed to the three “T’s” as critical components of any race.

“There’s been a lot made about the repave,” Keselowski said. “Maybe that’s right and maybe that’s not… I look at the tracks that I think have been successful in their debuts and the ones that haven’t been successful in their debuts, and generally I feel like what separates the good tracks and the bad tracks is how well they take care of the fans, more so than whether there’s a three-wide finish for the win.

“That’s going to come down to the three T’s – the Humpy Wheeler three T’s of tickets, traffic and toilets… I think they’ve got the ticket part figured out. I don’t know about the traffic and the toilets, but I hope they’ve got that figured out.”

It’s also noteworthy that, the three “T’s” aside, Keselowski thinks the repaved track will put on an exciting show on Sunday.

“I’ve read and heard some of the discourse here about the track, and I know they’ve put a lot of work into tire dragons and all those other things to try to get two lanes to come in,” Keselowski said. “No, it’s not going to be the three or four lanes maybe some of us hope, but still probably going to be two good lanes of racing, so I think it’ll be a great race either way.”