Denny Hamlin, pictured after winning last November's season-ending race at Homestead, is looking to start the 2014 season with a win in the Daytona 500. Given how he's performed thus far in Speedweeks, Hamlin has to be considered one of the favorites to win Sunday in the Great American Race.

Denny Hamlin eyes Speedweeks trifecta with Daytona 500 win; 5 fail to make field

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Denny Hamlin staked his claim as the favorite to win Sunday’s Daytona 500 after capturing the second Budweiser Duel 150 Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, in addition to last Saturday’s triumph in the Sprint Unlimited.

Hamlin held off late charges by both Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch. Hamlin’s win put a decided Joe Gibbs Racing bookend on the evening, as teammate Matt Kenseth won the first of the two Duel races a couple of hours earlier.

“Just keep doing what we’re doing,” Hamlin said when asked what are his thoughts now going into Sunday’s race. “We’re on a roll obviously and we executed the race today great.”

Hamlin, who ended last season with a win at Homestead, is looking to become the first driver in Sprint Cup history to sweep all three major events of the season-opening Speedweeks: the Sprint Unlimited, one of the two Duels and cap it off with a win in the Great American Race.

But despite the success he’s had so far this year, Hamlin is not taking anything for granted, either.

“We still don’t have any more points than anyone at this point of the year, so we still have a lot of work to do,” Hamlin said.

With his runner-up showing in the second Duel Thursday night, Gordon will start sixth in Sunday’s main event, right behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne (fifth) and three spots ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr. (ninth).

“I think we snuck in there with a quiet, under the radar, very fast car that’s capable of winning this race,” Gordon said. “I like it that way. Let some of those other guys get all the attention and get that target on their back.”

Fellow HMS teammate and defending Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson – who also hopes to begin his march to a record-tying seventh Sprint Cup championship on Sunday, as well – will start 32nd after running out of gas on the final lap of the second Duel and had his car hit by Jamie McMurray, triggering a multi-car wreck.

Kurt Busch will be the highest starting of the four Stewart-Haas Racing drivers in the 500, taking the green flag from the eighth spot.

Tony Stewart will start 21st, Danica Patrick 27th and Kevin Harvick, whose runner-up finish in Thursday’s first duel was disqualified for a track bar violation, will start 38th.

“It’s a great start for us,” Busch said. “Thanks to Gene Haas and Tony Stewart, it’s away we go. … We’re proud to be upfront in the Great American Race.”

Busch is still in pursuit of his first Daytona 500 victory. He came close in 2007, finishing second, pushing then-Penske Racing teammate Ryan Newman to the win.

Given how quickly he’s fit in at Stewart-Haas Racing, Busch feels at home in his new NASCAR address.

“It’s been everything I’ve hoped it to be,” Busch said. “This is a first-class organization built upon a championship foundation. It’s time to race. This is where you roll your sleeves up and where you lean on the communication of the team.”

When he was brought into the DIS media center after the second Duel, Busch was unaware that Harvick’s runner-up finish in the first Duel earlier in the evening had been disqualified after failing post-race inspection due having “exceeded the maximum split on the track bar,” according to NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp.

Busch tried to add some levity to the incident, saying with a laugh, “Oh, that’s not good. Maybe there was a 12-pack in the trunk.”

The younger Busch brother, Kyle, was not laughing, though, finishing 21st of 24 drivers in the second duel. Kyle Busch will ultimately start Sunday’s race from the 37th position, alongside Harvick, ironically enough.

Austin Dillon will lead the field to the green flag from the pole position in Sunday’s 500-mile season-opener, with Martin Truex Jr. alongside on the front row.

Kenseth and Hamlin will share Row 2, Kasey Kahne and Gordon on Row 3, Marcos Ambrose and Kurt Busch on Row 4 and Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Paul Menard will start from Row 5.

(Full starting grid at bottom of this story)

Five drivers failed to qualify for the race: Eric McClure, Ryan Truex, Joe Nemechek, Michael McDowell and Morgan Shepherd, who was attempting to make the field as the oldest driver to ever race in a 500 (Shepherd is 72).

Starting lineup for 56TH Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014:

Row 1

Austin Dillon, Martin Truex Jr.

Row 2

Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin

Row 3

Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon

Row 4

Marcos Ambrose, Kurt Busch

Row 5

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Paul Menard

Row 6

Josh Wise, Brian Scott

Row 7

Aric Almirola, Trevor Bayne

Row 8

AJ Allmendinger, Kyle Larson

Row 9

David Gilliland, Landon Cassill

Row 10

Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer

Row 11

Tony Stewart, Jamie McMurray

Row 12

Cole Whitt, Terry Labonte

Row 13

Greg Biffle, Bobby Labonte

Row 14

Danica Patrick, Casey Mears

Row 15

Alex Bowman, Carl Edwards

Row 16

Brian Vickers, Jimmie Johnson

Row 17

Brad Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Row 18

Joey Logano, Michael Annett

Row 19

Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick

Row 20

Reed Sorenson, Justin Allgaier

Row 21

Parker Kligerman, Michael Waltrip

Row 22

David Ragan

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Haas reveals VF-17 ahead of sophomore Formula 1 season

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The Haas Formula 1 team has officially revealed its new car, the VF-17, ahead of its sophomore season on the grid.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas took his eponymous operation into F1 last year, enjoying an impressive first campaign during which it exceeded all expectations.

The VF-16 carried Romain Grosjean to 29 points, including a fifth-place finish in Bahrain and an impressive charge to sixth on debut in Australia.

Its successor, the VF-17, hit the track for the first time on Saturday in Barcelona, with images being leaked on Twitter ahead of its official unveil on Sunday.

The new car retains a similar livery to the VF-16, with the Haas Automation company colors of grey, red and black all featuring, but the chassis itself sports an aggressive new look following an overhaul of the technical regulations.

“I think the pedal box is the same, but all the rest is very different from last year’s car,” Haas team principal Guenther Steiner said.

“You always try to make a faster car, which is normally a lighter car. Now we can put on more ballast and get better weight distribution. The aero is completely new, as are the tires, so we needed to have some built-in adjustability.

“Aesthetically, the car has a more aggressive look. It’s lighter and more aerodynamically efficient. Everything we learned from our first car has been applied to our new car.”

Grosjean will be joined at Haas this year by Kevin Magnussen, who has previously raced for McLaren and Renault and has signed a multi-year deal with the American team.

McLaren MCL32 F1 car gets first track test in Barcelona

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McLaren Formula 1 drivers Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne both got their first taste of the new MCL32 car in Barcelona on Sunday ahead of pre-season testing.

McLaren unveiled the MCL32 on Friday, with the biggest talking point being its striking new orange livery that harks back to the team’s racing roots.

Prior to the start of collective testing on Monday at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, McLaren took advantage of its filming day allowance to turn in some laps on Sunday.

Alonso got the first run in the Honda-powered MCL32 before handing over to Vandoorne in the afternoon.

Red Bull unveils RB13 Formula 1 car ahead of testing

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Red Bull has become the latest team to unveil its new car for the 2017 Formula 1 season, revealing the Renault-powered RB13 on Sunday morning.

Red Bull enters 2017 after returning to the top step of the podium last year, taking two race wins en route to second place in the constructors’ championship.

Daniel Ricciardo finished third in the drivers’ standings behind the dominant Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, while teammate Max Verstappen became F1’s youngest ever winner at the Spanish Grand Prix.

Both drivers return for 2017 and will pilot the RB13, which sports an aggressive new look following an overhaul of the technical regulations in F1.

Red Bull revealed the new car with a snazzy launch video playing on the number 13, saying that its new RB13 could be “unlucky for some”.

The RB13 – aptly launched at 13:13 local time in Barcelona – is much wider than its predecessor and also sports the ‘shark fin’ engine cover that also appears on a number of the other cars that will race this year. The car also retains the sleek matte look that the team debuted in 2016.

The RB13 will hit the track for the first time on Monday with the start of pre-season testing in Barcelona, Spain.

More to follow.

Otmar Szafnauer confident new F1 rules will create ‘uncertainty’

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22:  Sergio Perez (L) of Mexico and Sahara Force India and Esteban Ocon of France and Sahara Force India unveil the VJM10 car during the Sahara Force India Formula One team launch at Silverstone on February 22, 2017 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Force India chief operating officer Otmar Szafnauer is confident that Formula 1’s new technical regulations will create uncertainty and allow teams to move up the pecking order.

Force India enjoyed its best season in F1 last year, finishing the year fourth in the constructors’ championship behind only Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari.

For 2017, new technical regulations are set to make the cars significantly quicker over a single lap, prompting teams to place great focus on preparing for the upcoming campaign.

Speaking following the launch of Force India’s new car, the VJM10, Szafnauer was positive about the chances that the new rules would bring for both the tam and the sport.

“Whenever you mix up the rules it’s bound to introduce some uncertainty. There’s the opportunity for teams to achieve or underachieve and if that happens it will disrupt the status quo,” Szafnauer said.

“Will the new rules create better racing? Only time will tell. The cars will be significantly faster – not down the straights, but through the corners – but the braking zones will be reduced and that won’t necessarily have a positive impact on overtaking opportunities.

“I certainly like the aesthetics of the new cars because they remind me of the racing cars of old. I’m sure they will look spectacular on the track too.”

When asked about Force India’s objectives for the year ahead, Szafnauer remained coy, but said that the early signs within the team were positive.

“As a team we have some internal objectives, but it’s very hard for me to verbalize those ambitions because it’s impossible to know what our competitors could achieve given such a huge change of regulations,” Szafnauer said.

“What I can say is that we have met our internal targets for the car – for example in terms of the aero numbers we set as the goal for the launch car. How those targets compare to our competitors is impossible to say until we hit the track.”

Force India will enjoy its first public run with the VJM10 car in Barcelona on Monday at the start of collective pre-season testing.