NASCAR not just losing Hamlin, but his buzz

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Denny Hamlin’s being out of action for at least six weeks is a greater loss than just his driving ability. Hamlin’s been in the eye of the media storm since before the green flag even dropped at this year’s Daytona 500.

Hamlin told The Dan Patrick Show on the eve of Daytona that Danica Patrick, had, in fact, garnered too much media attention given her results. But the attention she brought to the series was a net positive.

After Daytona, when Patrick won the pole and finished eighth, Hamlin and his now former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Joey Logano began their budding rivalry. Hamlin wasn’t pleased with Logano’s moving around the track, not holding his line, in his Penske Racing debut.

A tweet addressed to Brad Keselowski from Hamlin read, “sorry I couldn’t get close to you cuz your genius teammate was too busy messing up the inside line 1 move at a time.” Clint Bowyer responded momentarily saying “2nd that,” while Logano later responded, “I remember when you were MY genius teammate. #LoveYouMeanIt.”

The year of Hamlin’s opinions, barely controversial although they were viewed that way in NASCAR’s eyes, continued after Phoenix when he said the series’ new Generation 6 cars had some ways to go to match the old cars in competitive terms. Hamlin was fined $25,000 by NASCAR for comments detrimental to the sport.

There was Bristol, where Hamlin spun Logano as Logano chased Jeff Gordon for the lead.

Finally, there’s this latest course of action where his contact with Logano has left him sidelined with a broken vertebrae. It’s the second straight year where an injury has taken a major star out of the sport (Dale Earnhardt Jr. sat out two races after suffering a concussion incurred at Talladega).

It’s also, in an amazing stat reported by the Sporting News’ Bob Pockrass, the first time in 21 years of JGR in NASCAR that a driver has been forced out due to injury. In 2011, Kyle Busch was suspended for the fall Nationwide and Sprint Cup races at Texas, and Michael McDowell subbed for him in the latter event.

Fernando Alonso completes first test with United Autosports

Photo: United Autosports
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Two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso enjoyed his first outing with United Autosports, with whom he will contest the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona, in their Ligier JS P217 LMP2 chassis.

The McLaren Formula 1 driver completed the test at Motorland Aragon in Spain alongside co-driver Phil Hanson, who will be a teammate with Alonso at next year’s 24-hour Daytona enduro. Filipe Albuquerque, a former GT class winner at the Rolex 24, was also on hand to help Alonso and the team ahead of Alonso’s first run in an LMP2 car, which comes only a couple days after he made his LMP1 testing debut with Toyota. Albuquerque races with Mustang Sampling Racing in IMSA, but will return to United’s European Le Mans Series program for all but one race in 2018.

“I had a great first test with United Autosports. Obviously, we are on a really tight schedule between now and Daytona, but it was nice to jump in the car for the first time,” said Alonso, who will rejoin the team at the official Roar Before the 24 test on January 5-7.

Alonso added, “There’s quite a few switches and things to study so it was important to do this initial shakedown before Daytona, so I could fully learn about the car. I’m happy with everything – the car felt great and the team were fantastic. The atmosphere here is wonderful, like a big family, so today has been amazing. I cannot wait for Daytona.”

Team owner Zak Brown, who also serves as executive director of McLaren Technology Group and helps lead the McLaren Formula 1 effort, shared Alonso’s enthusiasm and was not surprised he was able to acclimate himself relatively quickly.

“Fernando’s first test with United Autosports went awesome as expected. He is a world champion and it is a pleasure to have him in our car,” he said of Alonso’s debut with the team.

Alonso is currently schedule to contest the Rolex 24 with the aforementioned Hanson and McLaren test driver Lando Norris.