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As Daytona nears, Hamlin shows support for J.D. Gibbs
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! Defending Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin showed up Wednesday night to attend an Orlando Magic NBA game and help promote the upcoming Daytona Speedweeks, conceding there remains a lot of positive feedback about a special and sentimental move he made a day earlier for one of the sport's favorite sons. On Tuesday, Hamlin revealed on social media that he will carry his car owner J.D. Gibbs' first name above the driver door on his No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry. Like Gibbs, Hamlin's initials are J.D. -- James Dennis. Gibbs' initials J.D. stand for Jason Dean. RELATED: Hamlin unveils tribute on No. 11 ride Gibbs, a popular and well-liked personality has been sidelined from his once-busy role running the Joe Gibbs Racing team because of health reasons. He has been treated for symptoms affecting his brain function and his welfare is always on the mind of team members. So for Hamlin, this was actually an easy way to send a strong message of support. And the positive response to the gesture has been immediate and strong. "It's very tough to figure out what is the right thing to do to pay tribute to J.D.," Hamlin said Wednesday while visiting the local Florida media. "That car is number 11 for a reason. Although people always think it's that number because it always has been throughout my career, that was J.D.'s number -- his college number -- when he played football (at the College of William and Mary)." Hamlin reminded that it was actually J.D. that persuaded his famous father, Joe Gibbs, to hire Hamlin and give him a chance in the big leagues. The result has been 29 wins and a championship runner-up finish (2010) in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings. "It's a very special thing for him and it's always been his car,'' Hamlin said. "He was there that very first time and made the call to sign me to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing so I tried to do the best I could to pay tribute to him as well and his family. "We're going to leave it on for the year. I think it's important to do that.'' After one more official off day (Thursday) before the 2017 season begins, Hamlin will arrive at Daytona International Speedway for the season kickoff non-points race, the Advance Auto Parts Clash on Saturday night. Front row qualifying for the Feb. 26 Daytona 500 will be Sunday.
Denny Hamlin honors J.D. Gibbs on No. 11 Toyota
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! Ahead of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, Denny Hamlin unveiled a tribute to his car owner J.D. Gibbs Tuesday on Twitter. "This is pretty special to me," Hamlin said in a video he posted on Twitter. "J.D. Gibbs is actually the car owner of the No. 11 FedEx Camry and he's the one who actually gave me my first opportunity with Joe Gibbs Racing . We went to a test at Hickory Motor Speedway, called his dad up, they signed me about 13 years ago. So I wanted to do something to honor him." I wanted to do something special for JD who gave me my first shot in @NASCAR We share the same initials so I thought this would be perfect. pic.twitter.com/sH0p9SPmjl — Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) February 14, 2017 Both Gibbs and Hamlin have the same initials, J.D. -- Jason Dean (J.D.) Gibbs and James Dennis Hamlin. In March of 2015, J.D. Gibbs curtailed his involvement as the then-president of Joe Gibbs Racing due to health issues as he started treatment for symptoms impacting areas of brain function. He was named co-chairman of JGR, with his father, team owner Joe Gibbs, in February of 2016. Hamlin has spent his entire Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career with Joe Gibbs Racing . Over 12 years, he has 29 wins -- including a victory in the 2016 Daytona 500 and a runner-up finish in the 2010 standings.
Meet Jason Hedlesky, Carl Edwards' spotter
RELATED: Meet Denny Hamlin's spotter, Chris Lambert Editor's note: This is the fourth in a series of interviews with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series spotters. Jason Hedlesky, Spotter for Carl Edwards , No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota How and when did you get started as a spotter? I grew up (in Clinton, Michigan) and my dad brought me to Michigan Speedway for the first time when I was 8 years old. Before that, I knew I wanted to be a race car driver. When he brought me here … I walked up to the fence at the start/finish line and I want to say it was Neil Bonnett in the Wood Brothers car, he just came flying by me. I stepped back about five feet, it scared me at first, but it was the most awesome thing in the world. That just confirmed it. I stayed focused on my goals and tried to eventually make it as a driver. I succeeded to some extent -- getting my start with Mr. (Junie) Donlavey and had raced locally at Flat Rock and Toledo. Getting my start with Mr. Donlavey in 1998, I drove for him, did a little bit of everything, team manager and spotted for the team as well. In '04, Mr. Donlavey was retiring and I wanted to keep driving. I didn't really want another management job or a real job. I wanted to concentrate on driving. Carl needed a spotter. He was driving a truck for Jack (Roush, team owner) and I started spotting for him. We just became ... he's like one of my brothers. What, if any, other duties do you have with the team? That's it. For the last 13 years with Carl, I've just been the spotter. At Roush I did some test driving, a little bit. I filled in for him on the XFINITY side in I want to say '08. I did a couple of practice sessions when he was off with the Cup car. Do you spot only in Sprint Cup or other series as well? I work with Matt Crafton in the Truck Series. I've been with him probably five years now. We've won the two championships together. I've got a great relationship with him as well; he's a great friend of mine. It's just a great team to work with. Junior Joiner, the crew chief, Duke (Thorson, team owner), they're awesome. As much as this is home with Carl and everything else and being with them for 13 years, I feel the same way over there at ThorSport. How long have you been working with Carl? Since 2004 with Carl, I think that was his second year in Trucks, and then that year he started (at Michigan) in the Cup car, the '99 car. There was a timeframe when Bobby Hudson would come in just for Sunday only and do the races with Carl because he was already doing that 99 car. So I would do the Truck full-time and the Cup practice. Bobby would be here just to do the Sunday stuff. Then it gradually evolved into me doing everything Carl did. We ran seven straight years of XFINTY Series and Sprint Cup full-time. Do you remember the first race you worked as spotter? It goes way back to Toledo Speedway. I helped a guy with a Super Late Model. Toledo is a half-mile race track with a quarter-mile track on the inside. Chuck Roumell, I grew up working on his cars. He gave me a shot to help with the race cars and his brother was spotting. ... For some reason, one 100-lap Iceman feature at Toledo, he couldn't do it, so they just threw the radio at me. At that time, you'd stand on top of the tool box and just spin around in a circle; you really didn't do the inside/outside type of stuff that we do today. You'd let them know if there was a wreck; you'd give them information but that was about it. I think it might have been about '97. Chuck ran some ARCA races at Michigan and places like that and I spotted for him there. What is the most bizarre thing you've ever seen on the spotters' stand? I've been doing it now almost 20 years just in NASCAR, and every time you think you've seen it all ... something else crazy happens. ... There have been so many things, like Daytona when Juan Pablo Montoya broke that part and hit that jet dryer. That was crazy from our vantage point. We're watching the race track burn in Turn 3 and thinking we're never going to go back racing. The race track has to be destroyed. And we ended up going back to racing. I'd say the jet dryer thing and thankfully everyone was OK. What has been your most memorable experience as a spotter? We've had a lot with Carl. He's such a special driver. ... It stunk how it turned out, but one of the coolest things we were a part of was that championship run at Homestead with Tony (Stewart). That was a heck of a race. You just saw two spectacular race car drivers and they were right on the edge. They were an inch from the wall down there. I talked to Carl afterward; obviously we were all so disappointed. We thought that was our championship. To this day we still think we should have won that championship. But Tony just got us. I called Carl after that and said I was worried about him scraping the wall. He said, "I was never going to hit the wall; I knew I couldn't." But he was running a half-inch from it. Me driving and realizing how hard that is to do that at his speed, that's why those guys are the best. You realize that after you watch guys like him and Tony. To be a part of that, to watch the skill they had -- those guys were running as hard as any human being could ever drive a race car. ... That was pretty cool. ... That thing there was just a spectacular race, they put on a spectacular show. The cream rose to the top. What is the most difficult part of your job? As much as we like traveling, I think the toughest part is being away from my wife and kids. Getting through all the practices and trying to stay focused. The races are fun, that's what you're here for. Staying focused all day up on the spotters' stand ... when you've got Truck and XFINITY and Cup. That part is tough, but the travel, all the long days and being away from your family. Your favorite track to work and why? Michigan, of course, because it's home. But I love to spot a race at Bristol. Our vantage point, it's a half mile. You're looking down and you don't have to turn your head. You can see everything right there in front of you. And the action happens so quick. It's probably my favorite. I've enjoyed the racing at Michigan. It's a big, wide race track. ... I've enjoyed draft, the fact that you have to lift in the corners, the fact that a guy can still beat you down in the corners. What is one thing the average fan might not realize about your job or what it entails? Probably how difficult it can be. I think if I just took the average person up there ... they don't realize maybe sometimes how little you can see at some of these places. We have great, clear vantage points, but you're still a long way away. You're listening to NASCAR on one channel, you have the crew chief on another channel and you're talking to your driver. There's a lot going on. ... Just the ability to stay focused. It's not easy or Talladega or Daytona or (Michigan); They're three- and four-wide and you're looking through binoculars to make sure you're as precise as possible. Then wrecks are happening in front of that. ... They're kind of far away from you. If you do it for a season you just get used to it. ... I appreciate all the work all those guys do. It's not easy. Bristol is a fishbowl but there's a lot going on. So you have to keep your head in the game.
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Kenseth expands on Joe Gibbs Racing spotter shuffle
RELATED: Full NASCAR Media Tour schedule CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The surprising "retirement" of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Carl Edwards created more than just a driver opening for the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 team. It also resulted in the shuffling of spotters Chris "Crazy" Osborne and Jason Hedlesky. Osborne served as spotter for JGR driver Matt Kenseth from 2013-16. He also worked as the spotter for driver Daniel Suarez in the XFINITY Series this past season. Hedlesky has worked for more than a dozen years as Edwards' spotter. When JGR officials named Suarez to take over Edwards' spot, team officials thought it best to allow the XFINITY Series champion to continue working with Osborne for his rookie effort. That opened the door to pair Kenseth with Hedlesky. "With Carl's unexpected departure and putting Daniel in there, you know 'Crazy' has worked with Daniel the whole time through the XFINITY Series, the Truck Series," Kenseth said Tuesday during the first day of this year's NASCAR Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway . "He and 'Crazy' had that really good relationship and with Carl not being there and Jason being over (at the No. 19) I think everybody over there just decided to make the swap for the good of the company." Hedlesky has also spotted for ThorSport Racing driver Matt Crafton in the Camping World Truck Series for several years. " Jason has always done a great job," Kenseth said. "There's always some pause, I guess, because you kind of learn each other, and that takes a little bit (of time) to do that. But I think it will be fine." In addition to Kenseth and Suarez, JGR also fields entries in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for defending Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin and 2015 series champion Kyle Busch . &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Drivers react to wild national championship game
Clemson took down perennial powerhouse Alabama on Monday night in the College Football Playoff national championship game in stunning fashion, defeating the Crimson Tide 35-31. Drivers across NASCAR were paying attention, and took to Twitter to offer their thoughts on an instant classic. What a game!!!! #nationalchampionship — Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) January 10, 2017 This damn game!!!!! Wow! Love it! #NationalChampionship — Darrell Wallace Jr (@BubbaWallace) January 10, 2017 Quite the game. If you can stay awake — Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) January 10, 2017 Holy cow! — Chase Elliott (@chaseelliott) January 10, 2017 Great #nationalchampionship fun game to watch congrats to @ClemsonFB — Austin Dillon (@austindillon3) January 10, 2017 What a game.. Clemson!! #NationalChampionship — Kasey Kahne (@kaseykahne) January 10, 2017 Looks like I missed a good 2nd half of football by @ClemsonFB I'm happy to see an ACC team win it all. — David Ragan (@DavidRagan) January 10, 2017 ACC! — Jeb Burton (@JebBurtonRacing) January 10, 2017 ACC! — Jeb Burton (@JebBurtonRacing) January 10, 2017 To everybody that comments roll tide on my Tennessee posts....THATS FOR YALL!!!!!!!!! Hahahahahahaha nice win Clemson!!!!! — Darrell Wallace Jr (@BubbaWallace) January 10, 2017 Should've let kiffin coach.... — Darrell Wallace Jr (@BubbaWallace) January 10, 2017 Backed it up, congrats Clemson. Killer game https://t.co/lMUIiCgX5w — Chase Elliott (@chaseelliott) January 10, 2017 Twitter, predictably, going nuts. Good for Dabo. #nationalchampionship — Eric McClure (@ericmcclure) January 10, 2017 Good to see the tigers get it done and beat bama! What a game! #nationalchampionship — Jeremy Clements (@JClements51) January 10, 2017 Wow what a game! — Jason Bowles (@Bowlesjason) January 10, 2017 p1 - @ClemsonFB p2 - @AlabamaFTBL — Roush Fenway Racing (@roushfenway) January 10, 2017
Despite team changes, Kenseth remains focused for '17
His car chief has departed and his over-the-wall crew is expected to have a slightly different look for the upcoming season. The rules package will be new and there's another team in the Huntersville, North Carolina, to Denver, Colorado, pipeline. But don't expect Matt Kenseth , driver of the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing in NASCAR's premier series, to fret about the alterations to the racing landscape. "Worry never gets anything fixed or makes anything better," Kenseth said. He has rolled with the changes in the past, during a lengthy 13-year career at Roush Fenway Racing and the previous four at JGR. Rule changes, personnel moves, team expansion and contraction, Kenseth has seen it all before, adapting as best he can while seldom falling out of contention. "Nobody does a perfect job at this but I've gotten better through the years," Kenseth said. "I focus pretty hard on not worrying about things that I can't control because worrying never helps. Everybody worries to a certain extent. I try not to because it's not productive." JGR added a fourth team in 2015, bringing Carl Edwards into the fold to join Kenseth and te ammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch . A technical and engineering alliance with Furniture Row Racing was undertaken for 2016. That alliance has since expanded -- Furniture Row will add a second team for 20-year-old Erik Jones to go along with that of driver Martin Truex Jr . for the 2017 season. "We've definitely been expanding fast and there are definitely concerns that come with that," Kenseth said. "But there are also benefits too. We learned a lot from Martin and Cole (Pearn, crew chief) this year." In the meantime, the clock is ticking. At 44 and with the future of one-time teammate Greg Biffle undetermined, Kenseth has inherited, temporarily at least, the title of the series' oldest full-time competitor. His career starts mark of 614 is now tops among active drivers; his 38 wins rank 20th overall and he is tied for No. 2 among those currently competing. The 2017 season will be his 18th as a full-time racer at NASCAR's top level. He has finished as high as second on two occasions, in 2006 and '13, but hasn't made it to the final round under the current elimination-style format since its debut in '14. It's been more than a decade since Kenseth won NASCAR's top prize and each season that passes represents another opportunity lost. "I think after you win one you look at it like that," he said. "But certainly as you get older you realize that 'OK, one more passed by and there's not as many (opportunities) in front of me.' "When you're 33 or whatever, you don't really think like that. …" The future might look a bit grim if Kenseth and his team, under the guidance of crew chief Jason Ratcliff, had been struggling. But that hasn't been the case. Only three other drivers -- Jimmie Johnson (20 wins), Kevin Harvick (16) and Joey Logano (15) have won more races since Kenseth packed his bags and headed to JGR in 2013. Kenseth and Busch are next in line with 14 victories each. A new season will bring with it new opportunities. And change. Car chief Jeff Meendering has moved on to become crew chief for a new XFINITY Series team fielded by Stewart-Haas Racing . The race-day pit crew changes have yet to be determined. Aero package updates and other matters await. Kenseth has seen it before. "I think I've done a good job of keeping it in perspective," he said. "There are a lot of things you can control. And a lot you just can't." &amp;lt;/p&amp;gt;