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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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NASCAR America: Comparing today’s drivers to drivers of yesteryear

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With Kevin Harvick‘s recent run of three consecutive wins, NASCAR America analysts Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte used the opportunity debate which NASCAR legends they compare Harvick and other current drivers to.

Burton compared Harvick to three-time Cup champion Cale Yarborough.

“I think they remind me a lot of each other because they’re both very aggressive, they both got after it, good at every kind of race track,” Burton said.

Earnhardt sees some of 1983 Cup champion Bobby Allison in Harvick.

“Won a championship, won a lot of races, but wasn’t afraid to put his finger in another driver’s chest,” Earnhardt said.

When it comes to Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon, Earnhardt compared him and Denny Hamlin to the late Tim Richmond.

“Mainly in style,” Earnhardt said. “They’re the kind of guys that are a little flashy, a lot of flair outside the car. … Tim was that way. He wasn’t scared to flaunt it a little bit and he enjoyed life outside the race car as much as he did inside the race car.”

Watch the above video for more old school driver comparisons.


NASCAR America: Importance of keeping NASCAR connected to grassroots racing

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The importance of grassroots racing to the future of NASCAR is a constant subject these days thanks to the likes of Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson.

Now NASCAR America’s Dale Earnhardt Jr., Steve Letarte and Jeff Burton get their chance to sound off on the subject.

On Tuesday’s episode, the panel of analysts discussed why keeping NASCAR connected to the short tracks and lower series across the country is vital to the sport’s future.

“We don’t have that national series running old short tracks that draws people to the race track but also draws them to the TV on Saturday and Sunday,” Burton said.

Earnhardt brought up an attempt by Bristol Motor Speedway to purchase the Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, Tennessee, last year.  The attempted failed.

“My heart was broken because I thought we had a real opportunity to bring one of the touring series, either the Truck or Xfinity, back to Fairgrounds,” Earnhardt said. “That’s where I think we’re broken or disconnected. The late model guys and the guys that are running on these local tracks don’t have the connection to the Truck Series or Xfinity Series. They need to take those series, Truck or Xfinity, back to the short tracks and bridge that link.”

The three analysts went on to discuss the short tracks and races that were part of their formative racing years.

Watch the above video for more.

NASCAR America: Scan All from Auto Club Speedway

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Martin Truex Jr. was once again in championship form Sunday at Auto Club Speedway.

That fact frustrated some drivers, especially Kyle Busch.

You can hear his frustrations and more in this week’s Scan All.

Here are some highlights.

— “I mean, he’s a (expletive) idiot for racing that hard 30 laps into a (expletive) race.” – Chad Johnston, crew chief for Kyle Larson after contact with Kevin Harvick wrecked Harvick on Lap 39.

Johnston’s tone cooled once Harvick owned up to his mistake.

“Harvick’s taking responsibility for that, so don’t sweat it,” Johnston said.

— “You did a hell of a job keeping it off that inside wall. I was watching on the roof cam and was like, ‘Oh Lord, don’t hit that one.” – Rodney Childers, crew chief of Harvick.

— “I don’t know what the (expletive) he’s got going on, but damn I don’t have that.” – Kyle Busch observing how much better Martin Truex Jr.’s car was performing

— “This thing went from absolutely horrible to even worse than that.” – Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

— “I don’t even know what the hell we’re doing, what the hell’s going on and what we’re going to do next. It’s been the same all day. We haven’t made any ground on it.” – Kyle Busch as he struggled to keep pace with Larson and Truex.

Watch the above video for more.

NASCAR America: Biggest storylines through five race weekends

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After five races in the Cup season, NASCAR America’s analysts assessed what the biggest storylines are ahead of this weekend’s race at Martinsville Speedway.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Steve Letarte and Jeff Burton took turns sharing what’s stood out to them.

Jeff Burton started off by saying Kevin Harvick‘s success was the “easy answer.”

Burton discussed his surprise at Chevrolet teams underperforming.

“It reminds you in racing that you don’t really know what’s going to happen until it happens,” Burton said. “I’m surprised we haven’t seen more performance from the new Chevy body.”

Earnhardt was surprised at how big Martin Truex Jr’s margin of victory was on Sunday. He beat Kyle Busch by 11.6 seconds.

“I felt like in the first couple of races, maybe we got tricked into thinking the new inspections process had maybe leveled the playing field a little bit, even though Harvick won three in a row,” Earnhardt said. “Then Truex goes out and does what he did last year, maybe even better than he did last year.”

Letarte said his “big shock” for 2018 has been the “lack of change.”

“It’s the same players leading laps that we saw in 2017,” Letarte said. “Everyone is trying to catch up. I’ve always found it the hardest to continue to push your guys, continue to push your race cars when you’re already winning. It’s easy when you’re getting beat to motivate everybody.”

Earnhardt also observed how younger drivers have struggled to shine through five races.

“Across the board, the young guys still aren’t measuring up to the veterans yet,” Earnhardt said.

Watch the above video for more.