Hamlin, Larson wreck out early after tire issues at Kentucky
Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, checks his right ankle after gingerly climbing from his car following a wreck early in Saturday's Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.
A seemingly promising night for Denny Hamlin went south early during Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway, and his exit from the race becasue of tire issues was quickly followed by rookie Kyle Larson.
Both drivers slammed hard into the outside wall after having their right-front tires go down on them suddenly and with little or no warning.
Starting in the fourth spot, Hamlin quickly moved into third behind Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. But as the race approached the planned competition caution on Lap 30, Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota shot hard into the outside wall entering Turn 3.
Hamlin was able to climb from the car under his own power, but appeared shaken up and walking with a limp.
However, Hamlin told media members after leaving the infield care center that he felt "as good as ever."
"Really no warning at all," he said about the incident. "Having that competition caution on Lap 30 was good, but we needed it one lap sooner for us. I made sure, on a green race track you always want to keep your right front (tire) under you to make sure you don’t over-slip it, because you know tire wear is going to be excessive. But no, I didn’t expect that at all.
"I just heard it pop, and when it did it was very reminiscent of last year," he said, referencing his 35th-place finish in the 2013 Kentucky race.
Despite the 42nd-place finish, Hamlin was confident Joe Gibbs Racing’s 1.5-mile program has improved over the start of the season.
"We’re starting to get our mile-and-a-half program together," Hamlin said. "Joe Gibbs Racing, we’re starting to take a turn for the better. Wish I could have seen how far it would have went into the night, but proud of this FedEx team either way."
The disappointing finish was Hamlin’s third-straight finish of 26th or worse after back-to-back top-five finishes at Dover and Pocono.
Kyle Larson’s night ended when he suffered a flat right-front tire and slammed into the outside wall.
Hamlin’s issue wasn’t the only one in the opening stages of Saturday night’s race.
On Lap 76, Larson also blew a right front tire and hit the wall hard in Turn 2 to bring out the second caution of the day.
"I’m OK," Larson said after the hard hit. "Blew a right front. First time that’s ever happened to me in stock (car) racing. Big hits. It sucks. We were hoping for a good points day to pad where we are before we go to Daytona where it’s a real crapshoot.
"Disappointing to have two weekends that didn’t go end up very well over the last couple of races," he added. "Oh well. That’s how it goes. We’ll try to go to Daytona and rebound and gain some more points."
Much like Hamlin, Larson had no indication the tire was going to blow before it happened.
"I saw Denny blow his right front," he said. "I had been pretty tight, but we didn’t have any tire issues all weekend, so I was kind of shocked when he blew his right front. We were pretty tight on our run, and felt like I was using up my right sides and running up in the gray a lot trying to get the top (groove) working. I told myself to get back down just in case we were going to have tire problems. Guess I just used my tires up too much."
The tire issues continued on Lap 121 when Matt Kenseth felt his right front going down while running sixth. Unlike Hamlin and Larson, Kenseth was able to bring his car to pit road before it blew out.