CONCORD, N.C. ? Denny Hamlin's difficult, if not improbable, climb to qualify for the Chase for the Championship as a wild card entry got a lift Thursday when he won the pole for the Coca-Cola 600. After missing four races with a broken back, Hamlin not only turned the fastest lap at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, he shattered the track record at 195.624 mph. The only way Hamlin can get into the playoffs is to win a race or two in the next 15 events and finish among the top 20 in the point standings.
CONCORD, N.C. ? For as long as Jimmie Johnson can remember, the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend has been every bit as hallowed as Super Bowl Sunday for football fans, the Kentucky Derby for horse racing fans or Sunday at the Masters for golf fans. His day used to start before daylight with the Grand Prix of Monaco. It then evolved into what's still considered the greatest spectacle in racing, the Indianapolis 500. And it finished at night with the Coca-Cola 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
NASCAR's new rules that advance two drivers into the Chase for the Championship based on victories, not a top-10 position in the point standings, is one reason why drivers aren't as compelled to driving while they're hurt. Denny Hamlin stepped out of his No. 11 Toyota for four races while he recovered from a fractured vertebra suffered in a final-lap crash March 24 at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. Without the wild card loophole, it's likely Hamlin wouldn't have heeded doctors' order and tried to drive through the pain.
By winning earlier this month at Talladega, Ala., David Ragan is the only driver to do complete the most-difficult step toward winning one of two wild card entries into the Chase for the Championship. What could keep him out of the playoffs is a special requirement that wild card entries be ranked in the top 20.
There are two ways Danica Patrick can qualify for the Sprint All-Star race on Saturday at the Charlotte Motor Speedway: she can either finish first or second in the Sprint Showdown qualifying race or she can win a fan vote. The top-two finish would be a stretch considering her career best in any Sprint Cup Series race is eighth place at the season-opening Daytona 500. With Dale Earnhardt Jr. already in the all-star race as a winner from last year, she's become the favorite to win the fan vote.
Saturday night's Sprint All-Star race would be a perfect time for Denny Hamlin to let his aching back heal without losing any points for the championship. Don't count on it. Although he's still trying to recover from a fractured vertebra suffered in a crash March 24, Hamlin not only plans to drive in the non-points race, he wants to win it. "I want to win, so I'm going to do everything I can and be as aggressive as I would any other race," he said.
An unexpected, if not shocking, victory in last Sunday's Aaron's 499 at the Talladega Superspeedway won't change the way Bob Jenkins does his business in NASCAR. He will still buy used parts when he can. He will continue to make his own cars and hang all the bodies. And he will continue to surround himself with drivers and crewmen who feel like they've got something to prove.
TALLADEGA, Ala. ? It took a pair of Davids ? Ragan and Gilliland ? to take down the rest of stock car's giants Sunday. Ragan and Gilliland started eighth and 11th, respectively, in a two-lap overtime shootout at the end of the Aaron's 499. The teammates from under-funded and unheralded Front Row Motorsports worked together in a nose-to-tail tandem to carve one of the most-memorable final laps in Talladega Superspeedway history.
TALLADEGA, Ala. ? Denny Hamlin was cleared to drive for the first time in five races this Sunday at the Talladega Superspeedway, but the driver still won't take any unnecessary chances. After missing more than month with a fractured vertebra suffered March 24 in a crash at Auto Club Speedway, Hamlin will start in the No. 11 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. He then will give way to relief driver Brian Vickers during the first caution period of the Aaron's 499.
Kurt Busch is an accomplished stock car driver with 24 victories and the 2004 Sprint Cup Series championship. In the past three years he's attempted to expand his experiences to drag racers, touring cars and now IndyCars. After driving Pro Stock car at the NHRA's Gatornationals in 2011 and a Ford V8 Supercar last month at Austin, Texas, Busch will get behind the wheel of an IndyCar Thursday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He will test a car out of Michael Andretti's team with hopes of someday returning to drive in the Indianapolis 500.
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