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via Getty

via Getty

As NASCAR introduced its new short-track package at Phoenix Raceway this weekend, many drivers weren’t too impressed with the solution to their problems. However, one of the sport’s toughest critics, Denny Hamlin, found himself on the side of the sport this time around. While the Joe Gibbs Racing driver felt the improvements would only materialize during the race, Hamlin was left stranded with his expectations from the upgrade as he tried to recover from a late spin. While the result may not have been what he wanted, Denny Hamlin isn’t leaving Phoenix empty-handed.

“Today was about learning” – Denny Hamlin makes the most of his Phoenix misery

Denny Hamlin wasn’t able to capitalize on his Busch Light Clash performance in the first three point-scoring races of the season. So when Joe Gibbs Racing secured the front row at Phoenix with Hamlin qualifying in pole position, it seemed like the JGR veteran’s intuition about the reworked underbody and the new Goodyear tires had paid off. Unfortunately, even after securing Toyota’s first pole of the season, Hamlin’s race ended in heartbreak after he spun out while trying to avoid wrecking Tyler Reddick.

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Until that point, Denny Hamlin was in prime position to win the race. As he had stated earlier, this would have been vital to getting a good understanding of the track before the Cup Series returns to Phoenix in November. While Hamlin managed to recover to 11th, the short-track package combined with the changes to the #11 Toyota Camry XSE gave Hamlin great confidence for the races ahead.

“Certainly the result didn’t show it but thought that our car was definitely better here than what we’ve had here in the past. We’ve just gotta fine-tune it, work on it a little bit and see if we can make it better.” While the 23XI co-owner felt there was still room for improvement, the #11 garage had come close to perfection. He shared with FrontStretch, “I thought we were a top 3 car obviously, but you know, there was always someone a little bit faster after the race, so. It’s not too disappointing because we didn’t run bad, so today was about learning.”

While the upgrades made to the Toyota Camry XSE had done wonders to improve TRD’s ranking amongst Chevy and Ford, Denny Hamlin was ultimately hampered by the Next Gen car’s inability to overtake. This is the very grievance NASCAR aimed to address with the new short-track package.

Reflecting on the ease of overtaking after falling back, Hamlin stated, I mean, it’s difficult for sure. The cars put off a big wake, and you know, but that’s just part of it, and certainly think that, you know, if you had a good car, you could make ground.”

While Denny Hamlin had fallen victim to the lack of horsepower on the Next Gen car, the fact that the #11 Camry had a pace worthy of the top three throughout the weekend was nothing short of remarkable. Sharing how this made things easier, Hamlin concluded, “I’m not super disappointed for sure. Overall optimistic that we found something that was a little bit better coming to this racetrack than what we had, so, certainly just needs to be a smudge better and I think we’ll be right there.”

READ MORE: Honest Denny Hamlin Unsure of Being the ‘Car to Beat’ Despite Pole-Sitting Performance in Phoenix

Although the No. 11 driver believes the Camry XSE is on the right path and that the Goodyear tires certainly helped, will the introduction of more horsepower truly make the difference we all want to see?

NASCAR could add more horsepower to the Next Gen car ‘before next weekend’

While it’s no secret that drivers have long been advocating for more horsepower, many fans raised questions surrounding how possible that prospect truly is. And according to Denny Hamlin, as a team owner, it shouldn’t be hard at all. As we all know, before the Gen 6 car slowly dropped off power until the current 550-hp powertrain, NASCAR was well capable of running hp numbers above 700. This is exactly why Hamlin believes it wouldn’t be difficult at all for the sport to implement higher power to help with overtaking.

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Before Hamlin was thrown curveballs by the Next Gen car’s lack of overtaking power during the race, he had revealed how the current cars were more than capable of running higher horsepower. He stated, “You just call Doug Yates and TRD and say we’re gonna go back to our old 750 plate. It can be done before next weekend. And they said it won’t change any of the durability that they’ve got, so it can be done with one phone call. No additional money.”

The 23XI co-owner also felt that the solution would ultimately lie in introducing more horsepower, instead of better aerodynamic packages. Hamlin added, “I think any horsepower you can add will make the racing better. It’s hard to pass because we are all in the gas so much.” On short tracks, where braking is far greater than on the speedways, the added horsepower would mean cars would stay on the throttle for less, allowing drivers to pass someone if they make a mistake, unlike the case at Martinsville.

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Denny Hamlin concluded by explaining how the added horsepower would make for better racing. He stated, “You have to get us out of the gas either through the tire or the horsepower. That combination is what makes passing so difficult. So the more you can get us out of the gas, which means if we have more horsepower we have to let off sooner, that gives the opportunity to overtake for the car that’s behind.”

While it’s safe to say that Denny Hamlin wasn’t too disappointed with the short-track package NASCAR introduced at Phoenix, do you think more horsepower is the be-all and end-all of the Next Gen’s future?