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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: Chase Elliott ‘biggest surprise’ of Cup playoffs

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Only two drivers are safely in the third round of the NASCAR Cup playoffs. Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski secured spots through their wins at Charlotte and Talladega.

That leaves six spots to be decided Sunday at Kansas Speedway.

NASCAR America analysts Parker Kligerman and Kyle Petty broke down the drivers competing for spots. Both of them agreed that Chase Elliott, who has finished in second in three of the five playoff races, has a great chance to make it all the way to the championship race in Miami.

“If Talladega had played out, he was either going to be in victory lane or in the top two or three,” Petty said. “When you look at that, he has had the most solid playoffs of any driver out there. We keep talking about the big three: Larson, Busch and Truex. This guy is a sleeper. But he’s my No. 4.”

Said Kligerman: “He’s been the biggest surprise. That 24 team has been incredible through the playoffs. One thing I’ve noticed about that team, just speaking to (crew chief) Alan Gustafson, speaking to Chase, it’s almost as if they want that first win more than they care about the playoffs.”

Watch the above video for more on the playoff drivers.

Friday’s NASCAR Cup, Xfinity schedule at Kansas Speedway

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Things get started today for the pivotal weekend at Kansas Speedway.

The NASCAR Cup Series will have its elimination race in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400, where four of the 12 remaining playoff drivers will not advance to the Round of 8.

The NASCAR Xfinity Series begins its Round of 8 with Saturday’s Kansas 300.

But it all begins today, as Cup has its first practice (the other two are Saturday) and qualifying, while the Xfinity Series will have its two practice sessions.

Here’s how today’s schedule shapes up:

(All times are Eastern)

10:30 a.m. – 8 p.m. — Cup garage open

12 – 8:30 p.m. — Xfinity garage open

1 – 2:25 p.m. — First Cup practice (NBCSN, Motor Racing Network)

2:30 – 3:25 p.m. First Xfinity practice (NBC Sports App)

5 – 5:55 p.m. – Final Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

6:15 p.m. – Cup qualifying (multi-vehicle, 3 rounds) (NBCSN, MRN)

NASCAR: Will Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch advance in playoffs?

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The last two drivers to win NASCAR Cup titles are in precarious positions ahead of the Round of 12 elimination race at Kansas Speedway.

Kyle Busch, the 2015 champion, is outside the top eight in ninth. He sits seven points behind defending champion Jimmie Johnson.

NASCAR America analysts Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman debated who they think had the best chance to advance to the Third round after Sunday.

Petty put his money behind Busch, who has finished in the top five in each of his last five starts at the 1.5-mile track.

“He’s one of the big three: Truex, Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson,” Petty said. “I don’t see where these (last) two races (Charlotte, Talladega) have changed anything. The one thing Kyle Busch brings into Kansas City … he brings speed. These guys have had speed all year-long.”

Johnson on the other hand has produced only four top fives all season and just one since he won at Dover in June.

But Kligerman explained why he thinks the seven-time champion will prevail on Sunday.

“Jimmie Johnson knows how to pass and that is what has become evident throughout this season,” Kligerman said. “No, they have not had the fastest cars at Hendrick Motorsports. No, they have not qualified well. They’ve actually been sort of abysmal at qualifying of late.

“… He has three wins this year. Two of those he started at the back.”

Watch the video for more.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN: Daniel Hemric, Daniel Suarez’ racing roots

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America begins at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN and continues to preview the Round of 12 elimination race at Kansas Speedway.

Carolyn Manno hosts with Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman from Stamford, Connecticut.

On the show:

  • We’ll debate which past Cup Series champion will advance to the Round of 8. Defending champion Jimmie Johnson currently leads 2015 champ Kyle Busch by only seven points for the final transfer spot. Who has the edge going into Kansas this Sunday? This elimination race will be a heated competition just to finish above the cut line. Log on to NBCSports.com/NASCARVote and weigh in!
  • Xfinity Series playoff driver Daniel Hemric calls into the show to talk about his chances of advancing to the championship four in Miami. He’ll also describe his experience being one of the four drivers to participate in the recent tire test at the Charlotte Motor Speedway “Roval.”
  • We take a look at the Daniel Suarez’s Racing Roots and discuss his transition from Xfinity Series champion to Monster Energy Cup Series rookie.
  • Parker Kligerman hops into the iRacing simulator to preview Sunday’s elimination race at Kansas, as well as the Formula 1 race in Austin, Texas.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, you can also watch it via the online stream at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.