NASCAR Charlotte Notebook: Denny Hamlin Hoping For May Sweep At Charlotte Motor Speedway

(NASCAR Wire Service)

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Denny Hamlin celebrates victory in the Sprint All-Star Race Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway (Photo: Jerry Marklan/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Denny Hamlin celebrates victory in the Sprint All-Star Race Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway (Photo: Jerry Marklan/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Denny Hamlin had one million reasons to smile Saturday.

The No. 11 Toyota driver took home $1 million after visiting Victory Lane in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. Hamlin’s all-star triumph marked the first victory in the event for Joe Gibbs Racing since the organization began competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 1992.

More importantly for JGR is that Hamlin’s victory came at a 1.5-mile track, the first at the distance since Hamlin won the season finale at Homestead in 2013. This development is important for JGR’s championship hopes because five of the 10 races in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup take place at 1.5-mile tracks. Unfortunately for JGR, the All-Star Race does not count towards the season points.

“I know it was a shot in the arm for all of us and a lift to get a chance to run intermediate stuff and be up front with real good cars, be able to run with them,” Gibbs said following Hamlin’s all-star win. “We’ll just have to see what this means going forward.”

Hamlin gets his chance to deliver a points-paying 1.5-mile win to the man he calls “Coach” in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (6 p.m. ET on FOX).

“Saturday night was big for our FedEx team,” Hamlin said. “We have struggled with some speed this year and had things happen out of our control that have taken us to good finishes so Saturday night was a great reminder what this team is capable of if we put an entire race together.”

In 19 points races at Charlotte, Hamlin claims four top fives and 11 top 10s, but he has never won. The 34-year-old Virginian claims the fourth-best average running position (12.6) and fifth-best driver rating (92.8) at the quad-oval.

Hamlin believes his seat time from the all-star race can help him finally conquer Charlotte.

“I think we learned some valuable stuff,” he said. “We ran up front, re-ran in the middle, we ran in the back. I think we have an idea of what our car did. I have some really good information that I’ll download with these guys next week.”

On Sunday, Hamlin will have an immense challenge trying to hold off Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas Racing and Jimmie Johnson of Hendrick Motorsports, who have combined to win the last seven races at 1.5-mile tracks (Harvick, 4; Johnson, 3).

He acknowledged how it felt to defeat them on an intermediate track even in an “exhibition” race.

“Like we talked about, we hadn’t been able to run with a lot of the Hendrick cars or the Stewart-Haas cars over the last year and a half,” Hamlin said. “We were able to beat them in an arm wrestling match at least for 10 laps. It was great.”

Buescher charges into Charlotte as No. 1 driver

Chris Buescher barreled to the lead with the help of a friendly bump from Roush Fenway Racing teammate Darrell Wallace Jr. on a restart with two laps remaining and held off defending NASCAR XFINITY Series champion Chase Elliott to win the 3M 250 at Iowa Speedway on Sunday.

“(Wallace) gave us a heck of a restart,” Buescher said. “It was a hard hit. That was almost a crash. It was exactly what we needed to get going and get to the inside and be able to pull this win off.”

Buescher’s victory – his second in the XFINITY Series for his career and first this season – allowed him to jump Ty Dillon in the standings, who he now leads by eight points, even though points were the last thing on his mind.

“I hate points racing,” Buescher said. “I despise it. When that caution came out — watched it happen right in front of me — it was like, ‘All right, this is it. This is what we need. We need to come in and get some tires and get back rolling here.’”

The 22-year-old Texan will attempt to further his points advantage in Saturday’s Hisense 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on FOX). He has posted two top-10 showings in three starts at Charlotte with a high finish of sixth last fall.

“Obviously last weekend was a great one,” Buescher said. “We are really looking to build on that momentum this weekend, racing in front of the home crowd. I’m excited to have some family and close friends here this weekend to watch. I got my best finish at Charlotte the last time we were here, so I think we will be in good shape this weekend.”

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