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Healed and stronger, Denny Hamlin ready to pick up in 2014 where he left off at Homestead

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When the green flag drops to start the 56th Daytona 500 on Feb. 23, it’ll be 98 days and 290 miles between races for Denny Hamlin.

But even with the time lapse and the distance between Hamlin’s 2013 season-ending win at Homestead Miami Speedway and the 2014 Sprint Cup season opener at Daytona International Speedway, the Virginia native still feels like it was just yesterday that he took home the checkered flag.

And even with the layoff, Hamlin still feels like he has the best momentum of pretty much any fellow competitor coming into this year’s 500, based upon how he ended the most difficult year of his career at Homestead.

“Homestead, for me, made me believe that it’s possible, that if I get back healthy, this is the kind of results we can expect and this is how I should expect to run,” Hamlin told MotorSportsTalk. “So, not that Homestead made me change how hard I worked in the gym this off-season, but it definitely motivated me to know that if I’m feeling good, I’m going to be running good.”

There’s no denying how difficult and frustrating last season was for Hamlin. He was in the worst wreck of his career, forced to miss the next four races as a result of the back injury he sustained in a head-on crash into a unpadded retaining wall at Auto Club Speedway last March.

“It’s a dead year in a lot of ways,” Hamlin said.

To say Hamlin is more cerebral coming into 2014 is not a stretch. Up until last season, he relied more so on his talent to lead him behind the wheel. But now, he’s much more of a thinking man’s driver.

“What I take from it the most, I would say, would be just the appreciation of when you do run well,” he said. “I took for granted just making the Chase every single year and winning multiple races every year. Just like it was easy, really didn’t have to prepare for it.  I just showed up and we did it.

“With the competition and how we ran at the end of last year, you’ve got to think about preparing for more weeks and preparing to be good, you can’t just rely on talent to do it. “It’s looking over what you struggled with last time. It’s all about debriefing and figuring out in your meeting how can you get better? Not just chalking it up, ‘Oh, it’s just a bad weekend. We’ll rebound next weekend.’ No, why? Why did you struggle? How can you get better?”

Just putting the pedal to the metal won’t get it done anymore, Hamlin acknowledges. And what’s brought about the biggest change in him has nothing to do with Denny the race car driver, but more so Denny the man.

“I had a daughter, that helped a lot,” Hamlin said. “One thing’s for sure, as crappy as my weekends were week in and week out, it lasted as long as the plane ride home. That helped a ton.

“Those two events, having a daughter and having to sit out a few races, made me probably change my outlook more than anything has in the eight years that I’ve been in the Cup series on getting through those bad weeks and getting to the good ones and hopefully seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Those two things have changed the way I think about my job and what I have to do and hopefully it’s all for the good and shows up in 2014.”

Hamlin ultimately finished 2013 in 23rd place, which in and of itself is pretty significant. Sure, it was the worst finish of his Sprint Cup career, but he still managed to do so in just 32 races, compiling the win at Homestead, four top-5 and eight top-10 finishes.

By comparison, Hamlin finished higher than eight other full-time Cup competitors – including Casey Mears, Talladega spring winner David Ragan and Danica Patrick – in less races.

There were a number of critics that implored Hamlin to sit out the rest of the season and recuperate from the serious compression fracture he suffered at Fontana, that he needed complete rest and he was in effect hurting both himself and his team by playing hurt.

To his credit, Hamlin turned a deaf ear to the naysayers. And while admittedly his performance suffered, particularly in the middle of the season, he persevered and tuned out both his critics and the pain.

But no medicine could have made Hamlin feel better than the win at Homestead. Sure, his accomplishment was overshadowed by Jimmie Johnson winning his sixth Sprint Cup championship the same day, but Hamlin got exactly the kind of dose he needed: to go out a winner and build upon that momentum going into 2014.

“As the season got further towards the end, I started feeling better and better, and our performance just really started going with it,” he said. “Hopefully, my results (in 2014) go with all the hard work I’ve put in because I’ve done everything that I can to make sure that I’m well for this year. I don’t want to be the weak link, like I was during the summer, I feel like, for our team.”

So with the season opener now less than 10 days away, how is Hamlin feeling?

“I haven’t had anything, really,” he said when asked if he’s had any lingering pain. “Everything’s been good. I just feel so much stronger than I have been, so it shouldn’t be an issue at all. I think that really everything’s roses from here on out and we’ll see how it goes.”

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Jean Argetsinger, pillar of U.S. road racing, dies at 97

WATKINS GLEN, NY - AUGUST 08:  (EDITOR'S NOTE: Image was processed using digital filters.)  A general view of the track prior to qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International on August 8, 2015 in Watkins Glen, New York.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Watkins Glen International. Photo: Getty Images
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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (AP) Jean Argetsinger, the matriarch of early American road racing and a leader in the creation of the International Motor Racing Research Center, has died at 97.

Argetsinger died Monday of natural causes at her home in Burdett, New York, according to Glenda Gephart, director of administration and communications for the research center in Watkins Glen. Argetsinger was predeceased by her husband, Cameron, in 2008.

The Argetsingers are credited with the rebirth of road racing in the United States after World War II. In establishing Watkins Glen as one of the most important racing venues in the world, Jean Argetsinger was at the forefront in hospitality, publicity and community involvement. She was a founder of the IMRRC, an archival and research library that’s dedicated to the preservation and sharing of the history of motorsports, all venues and all series worldwide. She served on the IMRRC governing council since the center opened in 1999.

“It was Jean’s vision, quiet determination and relentless pursuit that made it all a reality,” John Saunders, president of International Speedway Corp., said Wednesday. “While her spirit lives on, I truly will miss the first lady of American road racing.”

In the first years of racing in Watkins Glen, Argetsinger was at the side of her husband, welcoming drivers from around the world to parties at her house and putting together race event programs. In 1958, she established the Paddock Club, now known as the Glen Club, as “a civilized retreat for drivers’ wives and visiting celebrities.”

“I never thought racing would be my life. I don’t know much about cars, but I do know about the people who drive them,” Argetsinger said in 1999 when introducing a film documentary about the history of Watkins Glen racing. “When Cameron presented the idea of a road race to SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) at a cocktail party in Indianapolis, a distinguished member of the group put a fatherly arm around my shoulder and said, `Don’t do it. You’ll work hard, and nobody will come.’ ”

The Argetsingers were honored in 2009 with a Watkins Glen International Legend of the Glen Award.

“Jean will be missed by the entire racing industry, as the matriarch of racing at Watkins Glen and for her support of the racing community as a whole,” Watkins Glen International president Michael Printup said. “What Jean and Cameron accomplished in our small town will always be relished.”

Argetsinger, who raised nine children, was a founder of the League of Women Voters of Schuyler County and the Burdett Players theatrical group. She also was an 11-year member of the Watkins Glen Central School District board and led the Watkins Glen Public Library board for 24 years.

The New York State Legislature named Argetsinger a Woman of Distinction in 1999, the first class of honorees. She also was a columnist for The Watkins Review, a local weekly newspaper, and wrote a history of St. Mary’s of the Lake Catholic Church as well as several books on county history.

A funeral Mass will be held Saturday at St. Mary’s of the Lake Catholic Church in Watkins Glen.

Josef Newgarden already fitting in quite nicely with Team Penske

FORT WORTH, TX - JUNE 10:  Josef Newgarden, driver of the #21 Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet, prepares to drive during practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 10, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
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Josef Newgarden is like a boy with a new toy.

The newest addition to the Team Penske IndyCar lineup – he replaces Juan Pablo Montoya in the No. 2 Chevrolet – is acting like a kid in a candy store: he has arguably the best and winningest team in the sport, three of the best teammates, the best equipment and the best support personnel.

“Dude, it’s all cool, every day is cool with this group,” Newgarden said Wednesday during IndyCar Media Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“Every day there’s something cool that goes on. When I first went down there and got to meet the whole team and I got introduced to the shop, it was very overwhelming because most of the shop was there for the introduction, and they have 425-plus employees. So it’s just very overwhelming and kind of emotional just because of the magnitude of it.”

The biggest change from the 26-year-old Newgarden’s previous tenure with Ed Carpenter Racing to Team Penske is indeed the personnel and available resources. With those kinds of numbers comes great strength.

“Every day, they’re like, ‘Oh, no, we do it like this’ or ‘We’ll sort that out for you, we’ll get this done,’” Newgarden said. “It’s literally every day they’re doing something that I might need or was thinking of, and it just happens, and you’re like, wow, that is so cool the way this works out here.”

Like pretty much every other full-time driver on the Verizon IndyCar Series circuit, Newgarden, who earned his three IndyCar career wins over the last two seasons, has two goals for 2017: winning the series championship and the Indianapolis 500.

Given that the Hendersonville, Tenn., native, who just moved to Penske headquarters in Charlotte from Indianapolis, is racing for the team that has won the 500 the most – 16 times – Newgarden can’t wait for the month of May.

“Yeah, the 500 is going to be very special, but I’m already like feeling that every month and every day,” he said. “Like that just has never been a moment where it’s not been cool with what we do and how we do it.

“Yeah, I’m sure it’s going to be super special for the 500, but I don’t think I’m going to feel that until we get inside the gates in May.”

While Newgarden — who has defending series champion Simon Pagenaud and veterans Will Power and Helio Castroneves as both teammates and mentors — is the envy of many of his young peers in the IndyCar series, he hasn’t forgotten where he came from, namely, Ed Carpenter Racing, where he and his innate driving talent were able to flourish.

‘We had a really great 2016 season, and it’s going to be an interesting transition for me going to Team Penske now,” said Newgarden, who finished fourth in last season’s standings. “I think in some aspects, it’s a difficult move because I really enjoyed my time and I’m going to miss my time at ECR.

“I built a really strong foundation there with the people and with Ed, and even in the past with (former team owners) Sarah (Fisher) and Andy (O’Gara) and Wink (Hartman) and Libba (Hartman). It’s a tough transition, but at the same time, I’m excited about it because from what I’ve seen over the last four or five months at Team Penske, I think it’s going to be a really, really fun experience to try something new to work in a different environment, to learn a different environment, and then try and make the most of that.

“I’m very excited about 2017. I’m not sure how it’s going to pan out yet. I think it’s hard to predict, but I think we’re going to have a pretty good going.”

Given that he’s entering his sixth season in IndyCar and his first with the best team in the series, Newgarden knows what the expectations for him are.

“I’ve got no excuses,” he said of 2017. “I’ve been around quite a while. I’m not a rookie by any stretch. You know, I’ll be in the best equipment from what everyone considers, and I’ve got a good team.

“… But on the whole, I should be pretty much ready to rock and go. If I’m not getting the job done, then I’ll have to figure it out pretty quick. So I think there’s pressure there, yeah, which is okay. That’s how it works.”

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NHRA: Sponsorship woes sideline former Top Fuel champ Shawn Langdon

shawn langdon AP
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As the NHRA prepares to begin its new season in three weeks, a bit of distressing news has emerged.

According to Bobby Bennett of CompetitionPlus.com, former champion Shawn Langdon and his Top Fuel dragster have been parked by team owner Don Schumacher due to lack of sponsorship to start the season.

Langdon’s car was one of four Top Fuel dragsters that Don Schumacher Racing fielded last season. The other three – Tony Schumacher, two-time defending champ Antron Brown and Leah Pritchett – will start the season as planned.

But because enough sponsorship for the entire 24-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series has not materialized, Langdon will be parked until more funding is found.

“I am working on some things that will hopefully work out and give me the funding to run the car as soon as possible,” Don Schumacher told Bennett.

This is the second time in a year and a half that Langdon has been sidelined due to a lack of funding. He raced through the 18-race 2015 regular season, but team owner Alan Johnson parked Langdon when the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs began because money ran out.

Langdon almost immediately hooked up with DSR to finish out the 2015 season, and then raced the full season in 2016, winning three races and finishing fifth in the final standings.

“At this point, there’s really no other option than just to get back at it and just start talking with companies that we feel would be a good fit over here at Don Schumacher Racing,” Langdon told Bennett.

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Handful of changes identified on Rolex 24 entry list

No. 29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi R8 LMS, No. 51 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi R8 LMS, No. 51 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA
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The entry lists for both the Rolex 24 at Daytona and BMW Performance 200, the respective curtain-raisers for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge (Jan. 28-29), have been released on Wednesday and there’s not too many changes compared to the ones released for the Roar Before the Rolex 24 test earlier this month.

Within Prototype, Brendon Hartley has now been listed as fourth driver for both of the Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPis. The New Zealander has driven in a couple Rolex 24s before, last year with Chip Ganassi Racing, and will saddle up with ESM this year despite missing the Roar test.

GT Daytona includes a number of additions, with Turner Motorsport confirming its full race lineup of BMW factory shoes Jens Klingmann, Maxime Martin, Jesse Krohn and sports car/NASCAR veteran Justin Marks in the No. 96 BMW M6 GT3 as the biggest change.

Maro Engel (No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3), Tim Pappas (No. 991 TRG Porsche 911 GT3 R), Sven Mueller (No. 59 Manthey Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R), and Dion von Moltke (No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3) are among the key drivers added, though some teams have not yet confirmed those signings outright. Pappas’ confirmation brings together the principal of Black Swan Racing with Kevin Buckler’s TRG program in an interesting partnership.

Most of the Prototype Challenge field has been confirmed. Nick Boulle switches to Performance Tech Motorsports after being initially listed at BAR1 Motorsports. Starworks Motorsport’s lineup is set to include Sebastian Saavedra, Remo Ruscitti, Robert Wickens and the at-the-moment unlisted Sean Rayhall as its pro drivers.

Spencer Pumpelly, Guy Cosmo, Marc Miller, Damien Faulkner, Kenton Koch and Cameron Lawrence are among the notables still without a ride at the moment, and judging by the entry list, there’s still a number of TBDs and vacancies still within the GTD class.

The Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge entry list, meanwhile, features an even balance of 20 GS and 20 ST cars for the four-hour season opener.

Entry lists are linked below:

WeatherTech Championship
Continental Tire Challenge