Hamlin returns to site of Daytona 500 win, eyes sweep
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Since Denny Hamlin first arrived in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series full time in 2006 he had an immediate positive relationship with Daytona International Speedway winning his first-ever Budweiser Shootout as a rookie in the days leading up to the season-opening Daytona 500 . Since then, Hamlin has won that event two more times including this February -- just 8 days before he pulled off an amazing last lap pass to claim his maiden Daytona 500 victory in the closest finish in the race's great 58-year history. A win in Saturday's Coke Zero 400 would give Hamlin another unique claim to Daytona fame -- a season sweep of the Sprint Cup events plus a win in the Shootout giving him three victories (including both points races) at the track in a single season. Only Bobby Allison (1982) and Fireball Roberts (1962) have swept both Daytona premier series races and won an exhibition event too. Jimmie Johnson (2013), Cale Yarborough (1968) and LeeRoy Yarbrough (1969) are the other drivers to win both Sprint Cup races in a year. "It was about five years ago that something happened on the restrictor plate race tracks where I just -- it clicked and I got it," Hamlin said Thursday. "I can name a few instances it's really helped me, but I don't want to necessarily say that, but I just feel comfortable. I feel like I know what I'm doing and the results have showed it." The driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota hasn't finished worse than sixth in his last five Daytona starts, including a runner-up in the 2014 Daytona 500 and a third place showing in last year's Coke Zero 400 -- a streak of success even better than one of the track's true superstars, Dale Earnhardt Jr . Earnhardt has a pair of Cup race wins during that same five-race span -- including the 2014 Daytona 500 and this race last year -- but finished 36th in this year's Daytona 500 and 14th in this race in 2014. Despite the impressive numbers, Hamlin is well aware that his current success streak is a rare outcome at a restrictor plate track. "Eventually, we're going to get in a wreck," Hamlin allowed with a slight smile. "I think we did at -- yeah, we did at Talladega, but I've just been very fortunate on superspeedways and the bad finishes that I've had it's not because something I feel like I did. It was something that I could caught up in, so I've been fortunate. "It's been a great battle with the 88 ( Dale Earnhardt Jr .) probably the last four years with me and him. There's been a lot of one-two finishes with us and hopefully I'd love to complete the sweep winning the Unlimited, the 500 and the July race. I feel like I gift basket-ed him that dual win on Thursday this year, so I'd like to get him back here in July." A win this weekend would be key not just in Daytona historical context. Other than a fantastic runner-up finish to Tony Stewart on the Sonoma Raceway road course last week, Hamlin hasn't posted the kind of consistently good showings he might have liked. Especially with the way the season began. In the last seven races, Hamlin has three top-10s and three finishes of 30th or worse -- two of those sub-par finishes, a result of crashes. But just looking at Hamlin's face and his demeanor, it's easy to tell he brings an unmistakable confidence to Daytona Beach. And he's earned it honestly. He'll start ninth in the Coke Zero 400 -- surrounded by all his three Joe Gibbs Racing teammates who qualified second ( Carl Edwards ), third ( Kyle Busch ) and seventh ( Matt Kenseth ). Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr ., who Hamlin edged for the Daytona win in February, will start 15th. "Anytime we can work together, I try for sure," Hamlin said of his Toyota teammates. "I don't know that it was a plot to take out one car by any means. I thought we showed a lot of speed with just our cars in practice looking at lap times with what we would run as a group of five. Simple math says what the pack was going to run and I knew that if we could stay in a line and commit to each other, it would be tough for others to pass us. It worked out well. "Legitimately there were five Toyotas out to win on the final lap and that's really all we could have asked for. It was something that was in the works for a long time and it was executed perfectly by our whole organization and it worked out. Obviously any time you are successful like that you try to repeat it, but the competitors have a lot of say in that, so there are others who are going to have issue with what our plan is." "Really this track has been very good to me throughout my career," Hamlin said. "We hope to complete the sweep this weekend."
Elliott plans limited schedule with Phoenix Racing
Bill Elliott will drive in at least 18 Sprint Cup races for Phoenix Racing, starting with the Daytona 500, a team spokesman confirmed Monday. Elliott, 55, has driven a part-time schedule for Wood Brothers Racing the past four years, but the Wood Brothers are working to put together a deal for Trevor Bayne, leaving Elliott to look for another Cup ride. Elliott, the 1988 Cup champion, won the Daytona 500 in 1985 and '87. Phoenix Racing qualified for 28 of the 36 Cup events last year to finish 39th in the owners' standings. Because it did not finish in the top 35 in owners' points, Elliott will need to make the Daytona 500 on speed, through his qualifying race finish or a past champion's provisional. Although Elliott is eligible for the Budweiser Shootout , the team is not currently planning on competing in that event. Elliott started 40th and finished 27th in the 2010 Daytona 500, the first of 12 races he drove with the Wood Brothers last year. His best finish was 15th in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. With 821 career starts, Elliott ranks 15th all time with 44 career victories. His last full-time season was 2003.
Post-Race Reactions: Budweiser Duel #1
Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne comment on their runs in the the first Budweiser Duel of the night.
Up to Speed: Budweiser Duel
Alan Cavanna recaps the Budweiser Duel at Daytona International Speedway.
Harvick Talks About Winning The First Budweiser Duel at Daytona
Kevin Harvick talks about winning the first Budweiser Duel at the Daytona International Speedway
Final Laps: Follow the yellow brick road
Kurt Busch gets a shove from McMurray and takes the win after controversy over Hamlin's pass.
Kyle Larson's parents missed son's first Sprint Cup win, but eager to see more
Perhaps Mike and Janet Larson should have seen it coming as they proudly and nervously watched their television and computer screens while son Kyle led the field to the checkered flag in Sunday's Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway . The Larsons attend a healthy dose of their 24-year-old son's NASCAR races, but somehow have missed each of Kyle's inaugural NASCAR victories from the K&N Series, to the Camping World Truck Series and XFINITY Series. They were at home in Elk Grove, California, on Sunday when Larson scored his first victory at the sport's premier Cup level, too. "That's OK though," Mike Larson said, his voice full of happiness and emotion. "As long as he wins, I don't have to be there. "Janet and I would have been in the grandstands anyway, that's where we go every time to watch him race. It would have taken us half the (victory) ceremony anyway just trying to get back over there (to Victory Lane)." Instead, the Larsons stood in front of their television sets, tears rolling, hearts full, taking it all in. The dedication, the sacrifices, the hope, the joy that was this family's "every weekend" for years had resulted in a big-time, clutch victory three weeks before NASCAR's playoffs, the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . And while Mike and Janet might not have been trackside last weekend, they still had quite the view. "I was upstairs watching the end of the race, thinking 'Man, Janet is awful quiet today,'" Mike Larson said. "And then it got to be that last restart and Kyle gets the lead and I can hear her starting to stress. I don't hardly make a sound, but I thought, 'She's stressing me out.' "My heart, I'm telling you, it was just pumping over those last nine laps. I just kept thinking a yellow is going to come out, you think something is going to happen to derail this. I'm still very quiet watching, but then my arms went straight up in the air ... and I cried. I can admit that. "I get emotional about that." The Larsons can smile about their timing now. They took Kyle to his first race a week after he was born. Then, this close-knit family spent years together trekking around the West Coast watching Larson win and dominate races – karts and USAC features – from the time he was a little boy. From childhood, he loved this sport of racing so much he dressed up as NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon for Halloween – and still has the photo proof. The Larson's support has never wavered or waned even as their son earned his shot in NASCAR's big leagues and has quickly emerged as one of the most popular drivers on the circuit. Truth be told, the kind, funny, humble and extremely talented third-year Cup driver Larson has been one of the sport's bona fide stars even before hoisting his first Cup trophy. And now the Chip Ganassi Racing driver is a legitimate first-time title contender, too. And he should be quite optimistic about his chances at hoisting the big trophy. RELATED: Current stars' first Sprint Cup Series victory Larson's 2014 showing in Chase races – not as a Chase contender – was an incredible rookie effort and an enviable clutch performance. He boasted six top-10 finishes in the his No. 42 Target Chevrolet during the final 10 races that year. The Chase venues have been good for Larson. In the Chicago Chase-opener, Larson has finishes of third and seventh. His overall average finish at Dover is 6.2, and he's never fared worse than 11th there. He has a runner-up finish at Kansas (2014), was third at Martinsville in April and finished fifth at Homestead last year. He has at least one top-10 finish at every Chase track. "He thinks those are good tracks for him," his team owner Chip Ganassi said Sunday evening. "We think they're good tracks. He's shown before he knows his way around Miami [Homestead]. That's always good, to be good at the final track. "He's a shootout kind of guy. A lot of those races turn into shootouts. You're not so much racing the entire field in those races a lot of times. I look forward to it. ... I think he's the kind of driver that the Chase is made for, that format." After a throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway , NASCAR's newest Chase contender Larson will host his "Outlaw Kart Showcase" at hometown Cycleland Speedway in Chico, California. Less than two weeks later, Larson will begin his first Chase run thanks to that emotional, hard-fought victory Sunday. "This feels different because it's taken me a lot longer than it took me in any of the other stuff to get a win," Larson said Sunday. "It took me a couple months to win my first sprint car race, four days after my 15th birthday. Took me a few months to win when I got into USAC. Took me a few years to win an Outlaw race. "This, after the way my rookie season started, coming close a few times, not getting it done, you can visualize the win that early in your career. It's going to happen. It's going to happen. But it just never happened. "This one's different just cause of how long we had to wait and how much harder I've had to work for it. Like I said, it's special because all the hard work's paid off." And the good news for the Larson family is there will be plenty more wins to experience first-hand, and good odds they celebrate a championship sometime soon too.
Ben Kennedy picks up first career win in Bristol thriller
MORE: Race results " Standings " Chase Grid BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Ben Kennedy took the lead from William Byron with 20 laps to go in Wednesday night's UNOH 200 and later withstood an intense six-lap shootout with Brett Moffitt to earn his first career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory at Bristol Motor Speedway . With his triumph in his 63rd career series start, Kennedy, the great-grandson of NASCAR Founder Bill France Sr. and son of Lesa France Kennedy, CEO of International Speedway Corporation and Vice Chairperson of NASCAR, became the first France family member to win a NASCAR national series race. "I can't put it into words," Kennedy said. "Someone asked me earlier today what it's like going to Bristol for your first time, and to win here is just so cool. I'm speechless. The guys gave me an awesome truck. Everyone at GMS Racing, Jacob Companies, the fans in the stands, everybody watching on TV, gosh this is just the coolest day of my life." With two laps to go, Moffitt, driving the No. 11 Toyota Tundra -- the truck piloted earlier this season by Kennedy -- gave the Daytona Beach, Florida, native a shot in the bumper, but Kennedy refused to be rattled and stretched his lead to 0.274 seconds at the checkered flag. "I was just thinking, 'Go as fast as possible on this last lap,' " Kennedy said. "I knew Brett was putting pressure on me from behind. I appreciate him racing me clean. This is just so cool." Moffitt, who earned a career-best second-place finish, didn't have quite enough for Kennedy's No. 33 Chevrolet Silverado when it counted most. RELATED: First NCWTS win still a blur for Kennedy "We had a good truck, a strong truck all day," Moffitt said. "We ran top-five, top-10 most of it. He had just enough to get away from us on that last restart. After that, we got to him once but couldn't get around." Although Bristol has been widely known for its bump-and-run racing, Moffitt, continuing to fill in for the recovering Matt Tifft , said he tried once, but couldn't get to Kennedy to try again. "I'm going to race people the way I want to be raced," he said. "It is Bristol, so if you need to move someone, you got to move them. I just wasn't quite good enough in the center to get to him. He slipped up a few times and I was able to get to his bumper once, but didn't get to him hard enough. I was really waiting for him to make a mistake so I could shove my nose in there, but he executed when he needed to. He hit his marks and I just wasn't able to get to him." With the victory, Kennedy virtually secures a spot in the inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase with three races remaining in the regular season. "We put this deal together (with GMS Racing) a couple months ago and I never imagined -- I never would have imagined going into this race that we would be here today," Kennedy said. "I thought we were a top-15 truck or a top-10 truck, but to actually be here in Victory Lane means the world to me." &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Calamity strikes again in Daytona
Another big crash takes out front runners Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and others late in the Bud Shootout .
Moffitt on close-but-no-cigar finish: 'It sucks'
RELATED: Race results BRISTOL, Tenn. -- With only a handful of starts on his schedule, Brett Moffitt competes as if every race is a tryout. And in many ways, that's indeed the case. Called into service by Red Horse Racing to fill the seat of the organization's No. 11 Toyota earlier this year, Moffitt responded with a strong performance at Kentucky before an engine issue left him 31st, and Pocono, where he finished third. Earlier this month, Red Horse officials announced Moffitt would return for three more starts -- at Bristol, Michigan and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park . Wednesday night at Bristol Motor Speedway , Moffitt continued to impress with a career-best runner-up finish to first-time race winner Ben Kennedy (GMS Racing) in the UNOH 200 . MORE: Kennedy: 'This is the coolest day of my life' "It's really fun running like this and being super competitive two weeks in a row now," Moffitt, 24, said. "But second place sucks. We're here to win. I'm happy but I'm not. It sucks being that close." Moffitt has Sprint Cup experience, making a handful of starts a year ago with the now-defunct Michael Waltrip Racing group before closing the season behind the wheel of the No. 34 for Front Row Motorsports . His performance was good enough to earn him Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors. It wasn't, however, enough to secure him a ride for '16. Until he was called on to drive the No. 11 for Red Horse earlier this year, subbing for Matt Tifft , his NASCAR career was in a holding pattern. While his future remains uncertain -- he said there have been no conversations beyond his next two starts -- Moffitt is hoping his results lead to more opportunities. The team will carry the same truck to Michigan next week that was used at Kentucky and Pocono. "And they actually did some more work to it," he furthered, "so hopefully it's even better. "We're showing really strong, got a third place and a second place here; we just need one more. That would be a good place to win and hopefully at the road course as well." Moffitt had an opportunity at Bristol, restarting second to Kennedy for a six-lap shootout following the ninth and final caution. But Kennedy, who went from third to first with 20 laps remaining, didn't falter with the win on the line. While he closed on Kennedy's bumper, Moffitt said he couldn't get close enough to either make the pass or move the leader out of the way. Both were options he considered. "I'm going to race people the way I want to be raced," he said. "It is Bristol so if you need to move someone, you've got to move them. "I just wasn't quite good enough through the center (of the turn) to get to him. He slipped up a few times and I was able to get to his bumper once but didn't get to him hard enough. I was really waiting for him to make a mistake so I could shove my nose in there but he executed when he needed to and he hit his marks. I just wasn't able to get to him there." Daniel Hemric ( Brad Keselowski Racing), William Byron ( Kyle Busch Motorsports) and Johnny Sauter (GMS) rounded out the top five.