RICHMOND, Va. — Denny Hamlin has gotten accustomed to having Sundays off when NASCAR's Sprint Cup series comes to Richmond International Raceway, where the premier series has traditionally raced under the lights on Saturday nights.
But the track's spring race has moved to the afternoon. Organizers hope today's Toyota Owners 400 will appeal more to families with young children with a day race. Hamlin and others think they might be in for a treat.
"I like having Sundays off every now and then, but I think it's definitely going to put on a great show for sure," Hamlin said. "This racetrack, it does change a lot during the day."
Hamlin, born in Tampa but raised in Virginia, has won twice on the 0.75-mile oval, but not since 2010. He did a tire test at Richmond about a month ago.
"We have a tire that lays some rubber down here at this racetrack so we did have to change some things in our car and I was pretty happy with it. Overall, we'll lean on that test more so than past information," he said.
Worn tires quickly cost the drivers speed, and Kevin Harvick, who earned the pole based on his practice speed after Friday's qualifying was rained out, said that could make things interesting on what is expected to be a warm, sunny day. His fastest practice laps came early.
"It will be interesting just for the fact that the second and third times out weren't near what the first time was because the tires fall off, which is great," he said. "And I think it will be exciting for the race to see where the falloff goes and, being in the day, there are a lot of things that lead toward a fun day from the driver's seat."
Joey Logano, starting second, expects the product to be better in the sunshine.
"I think it is really nice that usually when the track is warm and the sun is beating on it that it takes more rubber and the track gets wider. When the track is wider it puts on a better race, in my opinion," he said.
Jimmie Johnson led Saturday's practice, followed by Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch. Tony Stewart, who makes his season debut after recovering from a back injury, turned just 64 laps on Saturday after leading all drivers on Friday with 38.
Hamlin, who won the season-opening Daytona 500, was 11th in practice Saturday, the slowest among the four cars in the red-hot Joe Gibbs Racing stable. JGR drivers have won the past three races — Busch back-to-back at Martinsville and Texas and Carl Edwards last weekend at Bristol.
Hamlin credits teamwork with helping JGR win half of the eight races run so far this season.
"We're all learning from each other every single week and it's just raising everyone's game quite a bit. I think everything is kind of clicking really well, everyone at (Toyota Racing Development) is doing a really good job of providing us the technology that we need to go fast. Every department within JGR is clicking really, really well right now," Hamlin said, adding that having Martin Truex's Furniture Row Racing car as a JGR affiliated-car has also helped.