Denny Hamlin’s Short Track Showdown takes driver back to roots (Watch race at 9 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN)

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SOUTH BOSTON, Va. – The reminders are there, subtle hints of what is possible. All one has to do is look up.

Yet, there isn’t always time to take a break in the infield at South Boston Speedway. The search for speed rarely rests. There’s a part to inspect, an idea to ponder or tweak to make to the car.

But in those scarce free moments for drivers parked along the frontstretch pits, they can look up, scan the crowd and its multi-colored shirts, some representing their favorite drivers, and see the grandstand sections named for competitors who once raced at this 4/10-mile track before going on to greater acclaim.

Denny Hamlin became the latest driver to have a portion of grandstands at South Boston named for him, joining Daytona 500 champion Ward Burton, Southern 500 champion Jeff Burton and others.

The honor was bestowed upon Hamlin when he returned to the track to host the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown (A one-hour recap of the event airs at 9 p.m. Saturday on NBCSN). The Late Model charity race ended with a dramatic finish and NASCAR placing one driver on probation for his actions after the checkered flag waved.

Late Model racing remains special to Hamlin and so does this track. Growing up in Chesterfield, Va., outside Richmond, Va., Hamlin would join his father about once a summer for trips to South Boston. When Hamlin moved into Late Model racing, he began to run at this track.

At this level, the driver is a part of the crew. They’re expected to work on the car, push it to inspection and do much of what any other crew member would do – unlike in the Sprint Cup Series where crew members rarely let drivers work on the car.

Winnings can be small. Money often goes back into making the car go fast with maybe a little left for a post-midnight trip to Waffle House.

South Boston Speedways marks the fulcrum of Hamlin’s career. It was here late one season while standing in line to register for that night’s race that car owner Jim Dean overheard Hamlin say that this race likely would be Hamlin’s last. Hamlin’s family no longer could afford to support his racing. Dean spoke to Hamlin briefly, starting a series of events that led to Hamlin’s sudden rise to the Sprint Cup Series.

“I remember calling my mom real quick, ‘Hey can you print up some kind of resume or something?’ ‘’ Hamlin recalls. “I remember handing it to him, and I remember racing probably my worst Late Model race. I’m thinking so much for that opportunity, blew that, but, lo and behold, he called me on Tuesday and said him and his driver had a disagreement and my opportunity was going to be driving his car the following week at Myrtle Beach.’’

Once Hamlin reached NASCAR’s top stage – where he’s won 25 Cup races, including a Southern 500 – he looked for a way to connect to his racing roots. At the same time, Tony Stewart was running his charity race at Eldora Speedway’s dirt track.

“I didn’t grow up on dirt, and I knew that there were several of us that didn’t grow up on dirt,’’ Hamlin said of his idea to run a Late Model charity race.

“I remember I used to live for the big Late Model race at Martinsville, and I always wanted to host a race like that that was one of the highlights to the local guys’ season. Martinsville is still the top of the line. I hope over time, with more sponsors, of course, grow the purse and make the field even tougher to get into and be that pinnacle event that I used to look forward to when I was running Late Models myself.’’

Each time Hamlin returns, the task becomes harder to win. He’s won once in eight years of the event. Twice Late Model regulars have won.

“Any of the guys here are definitely deserving of being in the top three series,’’ said Timothy Peters, 2004 track champion who has won eight Camping World Truck races, including at Daytona.

C.E. Falk, a Late Model regular, beat Hamlin in a door-banging final lap to win this event in 2010.

“If you were to write fairy tales for a living, that’s how it would go, David beat Goliath type of thing,’’ Falk said of his win against Hamlin when the event was at Hamlin’s home track, Southside Speedway.

Late Model regular Matt Bowling won this event in 2014, beating a field that included Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, David Ragan and Hamlin. That win carried through the rest of the season for Bowling.

“Everybody got their confidence back up, me especially, and let me know I could do it,’’ he said.

While this race is a chance to recapture the roots for those who have reached NASCAR’s top ranks, for Late Model drivers it’s a chance to show that they deserve a chance even if they don’t have the financial backing of others.

“The opportunity and the window is almost shut for those guys,’’ Peters said. “I’m very fortunate that I’ve had a lot of people that believed in me and financed me to help me get there. Everybody wants to be a Truck, Xfinity and Cup driver and it’s very hard to get there regardless of the talent that you may have. That’s what’s so frustrating at times.’’

Hamlin worries about those who don’t get the opportunity he did. He didn’t bring sponsorship money. He just had talent. That’s often not enough these days.

“I think the competition has gotten better,’’ Hamlin said of Late Model racing, “but it’s just trying to convince these teams owner to go out and find the next talent.’’

That driver is there, whether at South Boston or some other track. It’s just a matter of getting the chance Hamlin did.

 

NASCAR will have choose rule for All-Star Race at Bristol

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Following support from drivers, NASCAR will allow competitors to choose which lane they want to restart in during the July 15 All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The choose rule designates a spot on the track where a driver must select if they wish to restart on the inside lane or outside lane. The choose rule also will be in place for the NASCAR Open.

NASCAR also announced the format for the NASCAR Open and All-Star Race.

In the NASCAR Open, which is for drivers who have not qualified for the All-Star Race:

  • Stage 1 will be 35 laps
  • Stage 2 will be 35 laps
  • The final stage will be 15 laps

The winner of each stage advances to the All-Star Race. After the NASCAR Open, the Fan Vote winner will be announced. That will go to the driver not yet qualified for the All-Star Race after competing in the NASCAR Open.

In the All-Star Race, the format will be:

  • Stage 1 will be 55 laps
  • Stage 2 will be 35 laps
  • Stage 3 will be 35 laps
  • The final stage will be 15 laps

Both green flag and yellow flag laps will count in the first three stages. Only green flag laps will count in the final stage. There will be an unlimited number of attempts at a green, white, checkered finish under green flag conditions.

NASCAR also stated that the car number will move from the door toward the rear wheel to give more exposure to the teams’ sponsors

The biggest change is the choose rule. At Bristol, the outside line is dominant on restarts. The leader chooses to restart on the outside line and the driver starting in the second row — in fourth place — often is second shortly after the restart because of the lane’s advantage. With the rule change, others would have the chance to start on the outside lane if they wanted.

“I see nothing bad that it can bring,” Joey Logano said of the chose rule concept in May. “It brings another strategy to the table, it’s definitely something to talk about. You don’t have luck becoming involved. …

“I tell you, if I see a bunch of 12-year-olds do it in the Summer Shootout at Charlotte Motor Speedway, I’m pretty sure all of us could figure it out.”

Said Austin Dillon: “As a sport we’re always changing. We’ve done a really good job with the mile-and-a-half program and brought it back to life. I think the next thing is trying to make it better for the fans and create more drama than it already has.”

Some drivers have called for this type of rule to prevent the brake checking that takes place at the exit of pit road so a driver can be in an even-number position in the running order and restart on the outside lane.

“It takes out pit crew’s fast stops,” Dillon said. “Your pit crew could’ve gained a couple of spots there, but instead you’re giving up two spots because you’d rather start on the outside. That’s gotta stop. I think it’s gonna knock someone’s nose in at the end of pit road before too long, so that will end a guy’s race. I don’t feel like it is a hard thing to do.”

The All-Star Race was moved from Charlotte Motor Speedway to Bristol Motor Speedway because of the COVID-19 pandemic and North Carolina restrictions on mass gatherings. Bristol will be allowed to have up to 30,000 fans.

Drivers who have already clinched an All-Star Race spot: Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Justin Haley, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr.

 

Can anybody catch Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick?

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Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin.

Or is it Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick?

They’ve won four of the last six Cup races, including the past two, and came within a late caution flag of being the last two Brickyard 400 winners at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, site of Sunday’s race (4 p.m. ET on NBC).

MORE: Indianapolis weekend schedule

MORE: Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick 1-2 in Power Rankings

“For the most part, when we have had chances to win races, we have won them,” Harvick said. “I think Sunday (at Pocono) was probably the only one that I could point to and say that we had the car to win the race and didn’t win the race. I think for the majority of the races that we have had chances to win we have capitalized on those situations.”

That Pocono race Sunday? Harvick finished second to Hamlin, who has won two of the last four races.

“I would say specifically the last 10 to 11 (races) we’ve been exceptional, really since coming back from the break that we had,” Hamlin said. “I thought we’ve been really good.

“My team is really strong. They’re doing a lot of really good work at the race shop preparing our cars to be set up, optimized right from the first run of the day.

“Where we’re really struggling is not getting stage points. I think we’d be winning the regular season if we could get some. The way the races have played out, we’ve kind of made our bed to try to win the race because we’ve had race‑winning cars. I’ll definitely take race wins over stage wins, especially knowing that a race win counts for five (playoff points).”

Harvick enters Sunday’s race at Indy as the defending winner. He led 118 of 160 laps in last year’s race, winning by more than six seconds.

In 2018, Hamlin led at Indy when a caution with six laps to go took away his advantage. Brad Keselowski passed Hamlin coming to the white flag and won.

If not Harvick or Hamlin this weekend, Keselowski could be one to watch.

“My confidence level right now is very, very high that we can be a contender for the entire season and continue to build and get stronger,” said Keselowski, who has two wins and eight top-10 finishes since the season resumed in May. “Very, very pleased to see how the team has come together. … Now we’re starting to show a lot of speed. I don’t think we’ve reached our full potential.”

Even with Keselowski’s success, Harvick and Hamlin have been stout. This is how dominant Harvick and Hamlin have been all season and since May:

Most wins this year (15 races)

Most wins since season resumed (11 races)

  • Denny Hamlin (3 wins)
  •  Kevin Harvick (3 wins)
  • Brad Keselowski (2 wins)

Most top-five finishes this year (15 races)

Most top-five finishes since season resumed (11 races)

  • Denny Hamlin (8 top 5s)
  • Kevin Harvick (7 top 5s)
  • Chase Elliott (6 top 5s)
  • Ryan Blaney (6 top 5s)

Most top 10 finishes this season (15 races)

  • Kevin Harvick (12 top 10s)
  • Denny Hamlin (10 top 10s)
  • Brad Keselowski (10 top 10s)

Most top 10 finishes since season resumed (11 races)

  • Kevin Harvick (8 top 10s)
  • Denny Hamlin (8 top 10s)
  • Brad Keselowski (8 top 10s)
  • Martin Truex Jr. (8 top 10s)

Patriots of America PAC to be primary sponsor for Go Fas Racing in nine races

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Patriots of America, a political action committee supporting President Donald Trump’s re-election bid, will be the primary sponsor of Corey LaJoie’s car this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Go Fas Racing announced Wednesday.

Patriots of America PAC will be the primary sponsor on the car for eight additional races.  

“Our mission is to get voters registered and to the polls in November,” said Jeff Whaley on behalf of Patriots of America PAC. “We are excited about our sponsorship with Go Fas Racing No. 32 and Corey LaJoie. We feel this partnership is the best way to help us communicate this message to the NASCAR community and encourage all Americans to do their part by heading to the polls.”

Team owner Archie St. Hilaire said in a statement: “I am honored to be part of the President’s re-election campaign through the Patriots of America PAC. As a Trump 2020 supporter, this team will do everything possible to secure victory on and off the track electing President Donald Trump to a second term. Let us bring this country back and Keep America Great!”

According to public documents, Patriots of America has paid Go Fas Racing $350,000 to this point for the sponsorship.

Sunday’s Cup race airs at 4 p.m. ET on NBC.

NASCAR, Coca-Cola to honor military, frontline healthcare workers

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NASCAR will honor members of the U.S. Armed Forces and frontline healthcare workers throughout the month of July as part of this year’s expanded “NASCAR Salutes Refreshed by Coca-Cola” initiative.

Per a media release, NASCAR said the program will be “an industry-wide opportunity to recognize and thank those who have gone above and beyond to keep society safe and healthy.”

The kickoff event for the program begins with Sunday’s Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 at the Brickyard (4 p.m. ET on NBC, IMS Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), shifting to a mid-summer window due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We take pride in honoring all who work tirelessly to keep our nation safe, whether a frontline worker in the fight against COVID-19 or part of our U.S. Armed Forces protecting us around the world,” said Jill Gregory, executive vice president and chief marketing and content officer, NASCAR. “The NASCAR industry has always been passionate about saluting our nation’s heroes both past and present, and we once again look forward to recognizing those who serve.”

Per a statement in the media release, NASCAR and Coca-Cola will create content to honor the “heroic work from our military and first responder community during the COVID-19 pandemic. … Through NASCAR digital and social channels, the industry will spotlight even more stories with a new ‘NASCAR Salutes Refreshing Moments’ feature that will also be hosted on NASCAR.com/Salutes.”

“While this crisis has impacted everyone’s daily lives, we are able to race because of the selfless acts by our military community and frontline workers,” said John Mount, vice president, sports marketing and region assets, Coca-Cola North America. “NASCAR Salutes offers an impactful opportunity to showcase our pride and appreciation for these heroes and their families.”

In addition to premier partner Coca-Cola, several other NASCAR Official Partners will also take part in the program:

  • Mack Trucks will wrap its NASCAR Mack Anthem haulers with NASCAR Salutes-themed graphics voted on by fans at com/NASCARSalutes. The paint schemes honor both military and frontline heroes and the winning designs will be unveiled July 4 and debut during the NASCAR Salutes window.
  • AMR, the “Official Emergency Medical Services Partner of NASCAR,” will feature the NASCAR Salutes Refreshed by Coca-Cola branding on its NASCAR safety trucks and safety team helmets throughout the program.
  • Goodyear continued its tradition of replacing the iconic “Eagle” sidewall for 600 Miles of Remembrance at Charlotte Motor Speedway. This year’s recognition was the Honor and Remember organization, which works closely with the industry to honor gold star families who have lost family members while serving.
  • Mack Trucks and Blue-Emu also collaborated on a day-long effort to thank truckers and critical workers for their hard work during COVID-19. After a kickoff at Mack Trucks’ headquarters, NASCAR’s Mack Anthem haulers visited Virginia-based Sovah Health to thank the frontline workers at the hospital en route to the NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway.

Fans can learn more about the heroes honored throughout the NASCAR Salutes Refreshed by Coca-Colaprogram by visiting NASCAR.com/Salutes.