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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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Schmidt Peterson links up with CoForce

FORT WORTH, TX - JUNE 10:  James Hinchcliffe of Canada, driver of the #5 ARROW Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Chevrolet, practices for the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 10, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
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Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has announced a marketing and digital partnership with CoForce for 2017. The SPM team looks to enhance its digital media and marketing platforms and has brought on the newish company to do so, founded by Anders Krohn and Jonny Baker. CoForce has made a name for itself in the industry at a quick rate with a mix of driver, team and manufacturer clients across several series this year.

“We look forward to partnering with the young, energetic and creative team at CoForce,” Sam Schmidt, team owner of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports said in a release. “I have worked with Anders (Krohn) in the past and have been impressed with his integrity, work ethic and ability to think outside the box. How our fans and partners view content and value ROI is changing rapidly. CoForce will assist SPM in meeting those demands in an innovative and technologically advanced manner.”

“Working with Sam and the entire SPM organization is the culmination of many years of building a great relationship,” added Krohn, co-owner of CoForce. “Personally I owe a lot to Sam as he gave me my first Indy Lights test in 2008. From a business perspective, SPM has done a great job placing itself in a unique spot within the tech industry and we can’t wait to build upon that in 2017 and beyond.”

Oriol Servia will race Indy 500 for Rahal Letterman Lanigan

FORT WORTH, TX - JUNE 07: Oriol Servia of Spain , driver of the #4 National Guard Panther Racing Chevrolet, during qualifying for the IZOD IndyCar Series Firestone 550 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 7, 2013 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
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BROWNSBURG, Ind. (AP) Oriol Servia will race in Indianapolis 500 for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing with the possibility of adding more races during the 2017 season.

The 2017 Indy 500 will be Servia’s ninth in the showcase race and fourth with RLL (2009, 2014, 2015). His best finish overall was fourth in 2012 with Dreyer & Reinbold and his best start was third in 2011 with Newman/Haas Racing.

Team co-owner Bobby Rahal praised Servia’s experience as well as his ability to be part of “a one-car team fighting the multi-car teams.”

The Spaniard has made 195 starts in CART, Champ Car and the IndyCar Series since his rookie season in 2000. His Indy car highlights include one win (Montreal 2005) and one pole (Australia 2005) as well as 101 top-10 finishes.

FIA reveals provisional 2017 Formula 1 entry list

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo leads Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo, Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP), Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer and the rest of the field at the start during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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The FIA has released the provisional 2017 entry list, which has the four TBAs (as expected) and also confirms the race numbers for rookies Stoffel Vandoorne and Lance Stroll.

The big question mark that of course remains is who will replace Nico Rosberg at Mercedes AMG Petronas, and if any of the current drivers from other teams move into the TBA spot on the grid.

Vandoorne has selected the No. 2 for his driving career in F1 with McLaren Honda. Like Alexander Rossi and Will Stevens, who debuted on F1 entry lists with numbers in the 40s when they were reserver drivers (Rossi was nominated with No. 42 for the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix; Stevens with No. 46 at Caterham for the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, before moving to Nos. 53 and 28 with Manor in 2015 for their first seasons), Vandoorne’s one-off number of 47 this year at the Bahrain Grand Prix will not be retained as his permanent number.

Stroll will be No. 18, thus making only a one number differential from Felipe Massa’s No. 19, at Williams Martini Racing.

Interestingly, Scuderia Toro Rosso does not have its engine name confirmed on the entry list. The team ran year-old Ferraris this season but is set to switch to Renault power units next year. It just remains to be seen what they’ll be called.

The full entry list as published by the FIA is below:

Car N°

Driver’s Name

Company Name

Team Name

Name of the Chassis

Name of the Engine

8

Romain GROSJEAN

HAAS FORMULA LLC

HAAS F1 TEAM

HAAS

FERRARI

20

Kevin MAGNUSSEN

HAAS FORMULA LLC

HAAS F1 TEAM

HAAS

FERRARI

 27

Nicolas HULKENBERG

RENAULT SPORT RACING LTD

RENAULT SPORT FORMULA ONE TEAM

RENAULT

RENAULT

30

Jolyon PALMER

RENAULT SPORT RACING LTD

RENAULT SPORT FORMULA ONE TEAM

RENAULT

RENAULT

14

Fernando ALONSO

MCLAREN RACING LIMITED

MCLAREN HONDA FORMULA 1 TEAM

MCLAREN

HONDA

2

Stoffel VANDOORNE

MCLAREN RACING LIMITED

MCLAREN HONDA FORMULA 1 TEAM

MCLAREN

HONDA

TBC

TBC

MANOR GRAND PRIX RACING LIMITED

MANOR RACING MRT

MRT

MERCEDES

TBC

TBC

MANOR GRAND PRIX RACING LIMITED

MANOR RACING MRT

MRT

MERCEDES

44

Lewis HAMILTON

MERCEDES-BENZ GRAND PRIX LIMITED

MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS MOTORSPORT

MERCEDES

MERCEDES

TBC

TBC

MERCEDES-BENZ GRAND PRIX LIMITED

MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS MOTORSPORT

MERCEDES

MERCEDES

3

Daniel RICCIARDO

RED BULL RACING LIMITED

RED BULL RACING

RED BULL RACING

TAG HEUER

33

Max VERSTAPPEN

RED BULL RACING LIMITED

RED BULL RACING

RED BULL RACING

TAG HEUER

11

Sergio PEREZ MENDOZA

FORCE INDIA FORMULA 1 TEAM LIMITED

SAHARA FORCE INDIA F1 TEAM

FORCE INDIA

MERCEDES

 31

Esteban OCON

FORCE INDIA FORMULA 1 TEAM LIMITED

SAHARA FORCE INDIA F1 TEAM

FORCE INDIA

MERCEDES

9

Marcus ERICSSON

SAUBER MOTORSPORT AG

SAUBER F1 TEAM

SAUBER

FERRARI

TBC

TBC

SAUBER MOTORSPORT AG

SAUBER F1 TEAM

SAUBER

FERRARI

5

Sebastian VETTEL

FERRARI SPA

SCUDERIA FERRARI

FERRARI

FERRARI

7

Kimi RAIKKONEN

FERRARI SPA

SCUDERIA FERRARI

FERRARI

FERRARI

55

Carlos SAINZ Jr

SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO SPA

SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO

SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO

TBC

26

Daniil KVYAT

SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO SPA

SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO

SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO

TBC

77

Valtteri BOTTAS

WILLIAMS GRAND PRIX ENGINEERING LIMITED

WILLIAMS MARTINI RACING

WILLIAMS

MERCEDES

18

Lance STROLL

WILLIAMS GRAND PRIX ENGINEERING LIMITED

WILLIAMS MARTINI RACING

WILLIAMS

MERCEDES

 

IndyCar notes: Ganassi driver to be named; RLL adds engineering ace

FORT WORTH, TX - JUNE 12:  Graham Rahal, driver of the #15 Mi-Jack/RLL Honda, races Max Chilton of Great Britian, driver of the #8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, during the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 12, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedways)
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Pair of quick Verizon IndyCar Series nuggets:

  • Chip Ganassi Racing Teams will announce its fourth driver for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season on Wednesday. The leading odds are on Max Chilton returning for a sophomore season; Chilton posted on Instagram on Tuesday that he was headed to America, and that with Ganassi testing on Friday in Sebring, he’d be a logical fit. But it’s not necessarily a guarantee. Unlike most of the official driver announcements this offseason, this one isn’t yet a slam dunk.
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has added another engineering ace to its staff, hiring Tom German, formerly of Andretti Autosport. German has been named as engineering consultant in a multi-year deal. RLL’s engineering strength with Eddie Jones, Mike Talbott and Martin Pare have helped raise the team’s game in the last two years, and German, who was Alexander Rossi’s race engineer last year and also worked with Team Penske, will only add to that roster. “We are very pleased to welcome Tom to our team.” said team co-owner Bobby Rahal. “His record speaks volumes and I have no doubt having Tom work in conjunction with Eddie Jones, Martin Pare, Mike Talbott and Alex Farina will generate much success for all of our drivers, now and in the future.”