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.

 

GMS Racing reveals full-time driver-crew chief lineup, number assignments

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GMS Racing has announced its full-time driver-crew chief lineup for the 2020 Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series season and number assignments for its trucks:

– Chad Norris has been named crew chief for Brett Moffitt and the No. 23 Chevrolet team. Moffitt drove the No. 24 in his first season with the team. Norris has been with GMS Racing for two years and directed the effort that delivered the team its 2018 Xfinity Series win at Talladega.

– Chad Walter will lead Tyler Ankrum and the No. 26 team. 2020 will be Ankrum’s first season with GMS Racing. Walter served as an engineer for Ankrum this season at DGR-Crosley. Walter has five wins and 42 top fives in 208 Xfinity Series starts as crew chief.

– Kevin “Bono” Manion is paired with Zane Smith on the No. 21 Chevrolet. 2020 will be Smith’s first full-time Trucks season after competing part-time for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series. Manion has 24 wins as crew chief across all three national series since 2003. He led Martin Truex Jr. to his two Xfinity Series titles.

– Jeff Stankiewicz will remain as the crew chief for the No. 2 team piloted by Sheldon Creed.

Social Roundup: How NASCAR drivers are spending their offseason

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NASCAR’s Champion’s week is now behind us and we are firmly in the offseason.

Well, sort of.

The NASCAR world never really stops, which is evident simply due to the continued announcements for the 2020 season.

But with Joey Logano testing the Next Gen car at Phoenix earlier this week and Dale Earnhardt Jr. helping clean up North Wilkesboro Speedway for iRacing, it’s been anything but quiet.

Here’s a look at what else happened in the NASCAR community this week.

Someone needs to check in on Jimmie Johnson, he could be in his own version of Mr. Mom.

Chris Buescher is home again.

The 2015 Xfinity Series champion is back at Roush Fenway Racing for the 2020 Cup season and he’s got the firesuits and cars to prove it.

Brad Keselowski recently became father to a second daughter.

He’s now learning some important life lessons.

Former Front Row Motorsports driver Matt Tifft is now off the market after getting married to his fiance, Jordan. Now they’re on their honeymoon.

 

Matt DiBenedetto showed off one of the perks of being a Wood Brothers Racing employee.

Ryan Blaney and Bubba Wallace went somewhere warm to start their holiday.

Joey and Caitlin Gase welcome twin sons

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Xfinity Series driver Joey Gase and his wife Caitlin are now parents to twin boys

The babies were born on Wednesday. Their names are Jace and Carson.

More: Brad and Paige Keselowski welcome second daughter

Silly Season Scorecard: Front Row Motorsports adds John Hunter Nemechek

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Front Row Motorsports filled one of the last major vacancies in the NASCAR Cup Series when it announced Thursday John Hunter Nemechek will compete for the team full-time in the No. 38 Ford.

With the announcement also came the news the team is retracting to two cars after fielding three in 2019.

As a rookie, Nemechek will have Michael McDowell as a teammate.

Here’s how the rest of NASCAR’s Silly Season has played out so far.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2020

No. 00: Quin Houff will race for Star Com Racing full-time. Announced Nov. 27.

No. 1: Chip Ganassi Racing announced on Nov. 1 a multi-year extension with Kurt Busch.

No. 6: Roush Fenway Racing announced Oct. 30 that Ryan Newman would return to the car as part of the news that Oscar Mayer would sponsor the No. 6 through 2021.

No. 8: Richard Childress Racing made it official Oct. 2 that Tyler Reddick will move to Cup in 2020 and drive the No. 8 car.

No. 10: Aric Almirola confirmed Oct. 11 he signed an extension to race for Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 13: Ty Dillon posted a video Sept. 6 on Instagram refuting rumors that he would retire after this season. He has a contract with Germain Racing through 2020.

No. 14: Clint Bowyer was announced Oct. 17 as returning to Stewart-Haas Racing for a fourth season.

No. 15: Brennan Poole will make his Cup debut and will drive for Premium Motorsports full-time. Announced Dec 11.

No. 17: Chris Buescher will take over the Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 ride in 2020 after the team announced Sept. 25 that it would part ways with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. after this season.

No. 20: Joe Gibbs Racing announced Sept. 6 that it had signed Erik Jones to an extension. It is a one-year extension for the 2020 season.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto replaces Paul Menard at Wood Brothers Racing (announcement made Sept. 10). DiBenedetto’s deal is for 2020 only.

No. 32: Corey LaJoie will return for a second straight full season with Go Fas Racing and the No. 32 Ford. The team announced on Nov. 1 it would enter a technical alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing next year.

No. 37: Ryan Preece moves over from the No. 47 to the No. 37. He will have a new crew chief, Trent Owens, who has been crew chief on the No. 37 for the past three seasons.

No. 38: John Hunter Nemechek replaces the now retired David Ragan for Front Row Motorsports. Announced Dec. 12.

No. 41: Stewart-Haas Racing announced Nov. 15 Cole Custer will replace Daniel Suarez.

No. 47: JTG Daugherty Racing announced Oct. 16 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will join Ryan Preece at the two-car team, essentially swapping seats with Chris Buescher. On Dec. 2, the team announced Stenhouse will drive the No. 47, with Brian Pattie serving as his crew chief.

No. 95: Christopher Bell moves to Cup in 2020 and will drive for Leavine Family Racing (announcement made Sept. 24).

Rick Ware Racing: JJ Yeley will drive one of the team’s three full-time rides.

 

YET TO ANNOUNCE DEALS FOR 2020

Daniel Suarez — The driver revealed Nov. 14  he would not return to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2020 after one season driving the No. 41.

 

ANNOUNCED PLANS IN OTHER NASCAR SERIES

Xfinity Series 

Ross Chastain – Kaulig Racing announced Oct. 15 he would compete full-time for the team in 2020 driving the No. 10 Chevrolet, joining Justin Haley.

Joe Gibbs Racing — Announced Oct. 17 Harrison Burton will drive its No. 20 Toyota full-time in 2020. Announced Oct. 31 Brandon Jones would return for a third year in the No. 19. Revealed Nov. 5 it would field a third full-time entry with Riley Herbst in the No. 18.

JR MotorsportsJustin Allgaier will return to the team for a fifth year in the No. 7 Chevrolet. The No. 8 car will be driven by Daniel Hemric for 21 races, Jeb Burton 11 races and Dale Earnhardt Jr. for one race. Noah Gragson will also return for a second season in the No. 9 car, while Michael Annett returns for a fourth year with the team in the No. 1 car.

Richard Childress Racing — Will field a part-time car in the No. 21, which will be shared by Myatt Snider and Anthony Alfredo.

Stewart-Haas Racing – The team has not announced plans for the No. 00 Ford with Cole Custer moving to Cup or whether Chase Briscoe will return to the No. 98.

JD MotorsportsJesse Little will compete full-time for the team.

 

Truck Series

GMS RacingDriver lineup will include Brett Moffitt, Sam Mayer, Sheldon Creed and Tyler Ankrum

Kyle Busch MotorsportsRaphael Lessard will drive the No. 4 full-time while Christian Eckes will drive the No. 18 full-time.

Halmar Friesen Racing — Stewart Friesen will return for a third full-time season in the No. 52 Truck. The team will also switch from Chevrolet to Toyota Trucks in 2020.

Hattori Racing EnterprisesAustin Hill will return to the No. 16 Toyota for a second year.

Niece Motorsports: Ty Majeski will drive the No. 45 truck full-time, taking the place of Ross Chastain. Announced Dec. 10.

DGR-Crosley: Has not made any driver announcements, but will switch from Toyota to Ford. Announced Dec. 11.

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