Crew chiefs aren't taking any chances at Talladega Superspeedway

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Denny Hamlin (center) ran only five practice laps at Talladega on Friday before heading to the garage.  RAINIER EHRHARDT/ASSOCIATED PRESS
RAINIER EHRHARDT/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Denny Hamlin (center) ran only five practice laps at Talladega on Friday before heading to the garage.

TALLADEGA, Ala. — Denny Hamlin drove five practice laps Friday afternoon at Talladega Superspeedway before parking his car in the garage area and calling it a day.

He wound up hanging out in the infield wearing shorts and sneakers for the rest of the day, knowing he only has to drive two qualifying laps today for the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 before taking the day off.

“I’ll be out tearing up the infield,” Hamlin said jokingly. “Everyone is mentally checked out until Sunday.”

The speedway scheduled two practice sessions Friday in preparation for Sunday’s main event (2 p.m., ESPN). Rules that restrict speed for safety reasons but create huge packs of traffic force many crew chiefs to keep their cars safely in the garage – and far from the possibility of a multi-car accident.

“We get here on Friday, but not many people are mentally engaged until Sunday,” Hamlin said. “It’s really an off-week for the team and the guys when it comes to the race car. You race what you bring.

“You’re not going to force guys on the race track and risk their race cars. There’s just too much that goes into these cars. We just check for leaks.”

Travis Kvapil posted the fastest lap in the first practice; running 200.452 mph. Casey Mears was second at 200.322. Both ran only five laps.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was quickest in the second practice at 197.598 mph when some drivers worked on single-car qualifying laps.

STEWART SPONSOR: It didn’t take long for Tony Stewart to replace Office Depot as a major sponsor on his No. 14 Chevrolet for next year.

Bass Pro Shops announced Friday it was moving its sponsorship from Jamie McMurray’s car to Stewart. The deal unites Stewart with his longtime friend Johnny Morris, who founded the outdoors specialty warehouse.

“Racing and NASCAR aren’t cheap at all, but they’ve helped us grow our business,” Morris said. “It didn’t take us long to shake hands.”

Bass Pro Shops will be the primary sponsor for 17 regular season races and the Sprint All-Star race. Mobil 1 will return to sponsor 10 regular season races and the non-points Shootout.

BUSCH APOLOGIZES TO TOYOTA: Kyle Busch apologized for his profanity-laced tirade against Toyota Research Development after last week’s race at the Dover International Speedway.

Busch led the most laps last Sunday at Dover, but he was forced to make a late pit stop for gas. Others, including race winner Brad Keselowski, were able to stretch their fuel mileage to the finish line.

Busch, who drives a Toyota, was mad that his manufacturer doesn’t get good fuel mileage, prompting TRD president Lee White to ask for a meeting with the driver and Joe Gibbs Racing.

“I owe my friends at Toyota and TRD an apology,” Busch said. “We have a great partnership with TRD and they built me a motor that helped me lead over 300 laps and nearly lap the field. It’s just frustrating that the caution fell where it did and suddenly it became a fuel mileage race and we were set up for maximum horsepower. Obviously, that worked well for most of the day and you can’t control when the cautions will fall.”


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