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Denny Hamlin wants to prove one Daytona 500 win ‘not a fluke’

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Denny Hamlin comes into this year’s Daytona 500 in a position he’s never been in before.

Winning last year’s race – the closest finish in the history of the Great American Race – will do that for you.

Even though he took in the Orlando Magic game Wednesday night, the defending 500 Hamlin was in a mood to also talk NASCAR.

Among the topics he discussed were defending his title from last year’s 500 win, as well as going for his second consecutive and fourth overall win in this Saturday’s Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway.

“Nothing aesthetically changes per se, but it’s a very proud moment when you’re announced publicly as a Daytona 500 champion,” Hamlin said. “It’s the biggest race of the year for us and the most historic by far.

“It’s great to have that label stamped on your resume for as long as you’re around and maybe even after. It’s cool to win any Daytona 500, but to win the closest one in history was a great moment. That clip (of him crossing the finish line just ahead of Martin Truex Jr.) has been played for many media outlets, I see it all the time and it just reminds me of how great a day it was.”

Now comes the question, what will Hamlin do for a 500 encore? He feels confident he can make it two in a row.

“I’d say there’s more pressure to get another one,” he said. “One of my good friends, Michael Waltrip, has two (wins) and reminds me that there’s only a few guys that have two. You think that after you’ve won one, the weight’s off and you can breathe easier now.

“But for me, you want to win two. You want to show that one is not a fluke. I feel like the last few years, we’ve given it a great shot and last year was obviously a great finish. But every time we step onto the race track at Daytona, we feel like we can win. We’ve won the Clash three times and so we’re capable of doing it. If anyone can go back-to-back, this is the year for us. But for me, you want to win two. You want to show that one is not a fluke.”

Hamlin kicks off his 2017 season in Saturday night’s Clash. If he wins it for a fourth time, Hamlin feels it will give him a leg up on fulfilling that goal of winning a second Daytona 500.

“That race (the Clash) is usually a race of attrition,” he said. “There’s usually a lot of wrecks, and a lot of it is because we’re rusty.

“These teams got to where they don’t like to run a whole lot of practice because they tear up race cars and then you’re building another race car that you really don’t need to. So the teams have pulled back on practice on Friday and Saturday and what I think that’s done is create more wrecks on Saturday.”

Hamlin also offered advice to new NASCAR Cup teammate Daniel Suarez, who is replacing Carl Edwards in 2017, as Suarez makes his first career Cup start in the Clash.

“Drivers are not used to how the cars are going to handle in the pack because the pack is never that big until you get in the race,” Hamlin said. “I encourage Daniel (Suarez) in particular to get out there and run with as many cars as possible because he’s going to find himself in positions that he’s never been in before. You’ve got to be aware of that.”

And how does Hamlin expect to win the Clash again?

“As a driver, I used the strategy of laying back at the beginning last year and we won it,” he said. “Two years ago when we won it, I tried to stay up front the entire event and it paid off.

“There’s several different ways to win but it’s a tough field. It’s the best of the best. You know you’re going to have stiff competition, but for whatever reason, it’s been a race that myself personally have had a lot of success at.”

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Points leader Elliott Sadler clinches Xfinity playoff spot after finishing third at Bristol

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Even though he hasn’t won this year, Elliott Sadler earned himself a spot in the Xfinity Series playoffs Friday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Sadler is the fourth driver to qualify for the playoffs. He joins Ryan Reed, William Byron and Justin Allgaier, who clinched spots through race wins.

The JR Motorsports driver and the series points leader finished third in the Food City 300 for his ninth top five of the year.

“Man, we had a great car,” Sadler told NBCSN. “I hit the wall with like 50 to go. Then I threw my water bottle out and it got in the jack man’s way, messed us up. We’re peaking at the right time.”

Sadler has led the Xfinity Series point standings for the last 10 races and following 20 of the 22 races this year.

Following Sadler in the top five is William Byron (-110), Allgaier (-136), Brennan Poole (-186) and Daniel Hemric (-206).

Brendan Gaughan is on the playoff bubble. He is 43 points above the cutoff line. Ross Chastain is 13th on the playoff grid.

Click here for the point standings.

Results, stats for the Xfinity Series race at Bristol

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Kyle Busch won the Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway for his fifth Xfinity Series win of the year.

He led 186 laps and swept all three stages.

Completing the top five were Daniel Suarez, Elliott Sadler, Ty Dillon and Justin Allgaier.

Click here for full results.

Kyle Busch wins Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway

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Kyle Busch once again dominated a NASCAR race at Bristol Motor Speedway, winning Friday night’s Food City 300.

Busch led 186 laps on the way to the win, his fifth Xfinity Series victory of the season.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver fended off the field in a nine-lap shootout following a late caution.

The top five was completed by Daniel Suarez, Elliott Sadler, Ty Dillon and Justin Allgaier.

Busch moved one step closer to a sweep of the race week. He won Wednesday’s Camping World Truck Series race. If he wins Saturday’s Cup race, it will be the second time he’s swept all three Bristol races after doing it in 2010.

Just like Wednesday, Busch fought through the field after a mid-race speeding penalty to earn the win.

“At least I didn’t have to come through (the field) in the last stage because everybody was pretty fast there tonight in the last stage,” Busch said. “I don’t know if I would have been able to make it all the way back up through there. Suárez gave us a heck of a run there. I was trying to push hard and he was closing in on us a little bit there before that last caution came out. Once that caution came out everything cooled down and my car wasn’t even close to what it was before, so I don’t know how I held on to it. The car was just so sideways.”

The win is Busch’s 91st in the Xfinity Series.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kyle Busch

STAGE 2 WINNER: Kyle Busch

MORE: Race Results

MORE: Points standings

WHO HAD A GOOD NIGHT: Allgaier led twice for 75 laps and earned his sixth top five of the season … Sadler led once for 15 laps and clinched a spot in the playoffs … Ty Dillon earned his second top five of the season and beset finish in 19 starts … Joey Logano bounced back from a flat tire and going to two laps down to finish ninth.

WHO HAD A BAD NIGHT: Ryan Reed and Aric Almirola wrecked on Lap 25 after they pinched Spencer Gallagher on the backstretch. Almirola finished 38th. … Reed caused the following caution after damage from the previous wreck cut a tire, sending him into the wall. Reed finished 37th … Brendan Gaughan had one unscheduled pit stop for a tire rub. He was then involved in a crash with 15 to go after being tagged by Jeb Burton, who had lost a tire. He finished 30th … William Byron lost a tire with less than 10 to go and had to pit. He finished 22nd.

NOTABLE: With his win, Busch is nine wins away from reaching 100 Xfinity wins. Busch has said he’ll retire from Xfinity competition once he reaches 100 … Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 13th in his first Xfinity start of the year.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: “Two weeks in a row. I know he doesn’t have a lot of race and I like him a lot normally, but right now I’m going to knock the hell out of him. The first time he gave me a flat and the second time he says he blew a tire. If you know you’ve got a tire going then don’t drive underneath somebody. The last couple of weeks I’ve been driven with no respect. We put ourselves back in a decent spot and we’re going to go to Road America and win that sucker.” – Brendan Gaughan after his late wreck with Jeb Burton.

NEXT: Johnsonville 180 at Road America at 3 p.m. ET on Aug. 27 on NBC.

Starting lineup for Cup night race at Bristol

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Erik Jones and Kyle Larson will start on the front row of the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway (coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC).

Jones starts from his first Cup pole.

Completing the top five are Kasey Kahne, Chase Elliott and Matt Kenseth.

Click here for the starting lineup.