Will luck finally turn for Denny Hamlin in 300th Sprint Cup start?

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Denny Hamlin opened up the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season with a runner-up in the Daytona 500, but things haven’t gone smoothly for him since then.

Now, as he comes upon his 300th career Cup start this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, Hamlin surely hopes for more restrictor-plate success that can get him back on track.

“We certainly had a strong [Daytona] SpeedWeeks, with wins in the Sprint Unlimited and our Duel race, and backed it up with a second-place finish in the (Daytona) 500,” he said in a team release going into the weekend.

“Hopefully we can be that competitive again this weekend and run up front. These restrictor-plate races come down to a lot of circumstances and luck, but the plan is to keep the FedEx Camry up front throughout the day, stay out of trouble, and be there at the end.”

Since Daytona, Hamlin’s only been able to collect one Top-10 finish, a sixth at Bristol in March. And of course, he had to sit out Fontana due to an eye injury.

Last weekend’s race at Richmond appeared as if it was going to end with a solid result, but a late-race bump from Kyle Busch spun him out and relegated him to a 22nd-place finish.

Hamlin will have to reverse a downward trend at ‘Dega this weekend, as he hasn’t earned a Top-10 finish on NASCAR’s biggest oval since the fall of 2011. Altogether, he has three Top-5s and five Top-10s in 16 career Cup starts there.

Like many drivers, Hamlin has been pondering what tomorrow’s Sprint Cup qualifying session will bring for him. It marks the first time that NASCAR’s new knockout-style qualifying format will be used on a plate track.

“It’s going to be more of an exhibition than anything,” he said recently to USA Today and NBCSN contributor Nate Ryan. “Trust me, you’re not going to sleep uneasy the night before the race because you’re starting 25th. That can change within Lap 1.

“I think it’s more going to be a show for the fans. I think you’ll see a lot of pack drafting with teammates and manufacturers. As far as importance for the race, there’s really none.”

Recapping the 2018 Dakar Rally with “best of” video highlights

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EDITOR’S NOTE: NBCSN will air additional Dakar Rally highlights on Monday at 7 p.m. ET.

As it has done so for four decades, the 40th annual Dakar Rally – the most grueling test of man and machine anywhere – produced a number of surprise finishes and also several disappointments for drivers or riders who were expected to do well in the nearly 5,600-mile trek that began in Peru and continued through Bolivia and ending in Argentina.

NBCSN has aired highlights from all 14 stages (actually 13, because one stage was completely rained out) during the Rally’s two-week run, which concluded Saturday.

Here’s some of the “best of” highlights from the overall Rally highlights, followed by a quick guide that gives you wrapups to all 14 stages.

So, without further adieu, here’s NBCSN’s “best of” the 2018 Dakar Rally:

2018 Dakar Rally: Best of cars

2018 Dakar Rally: Best of bikes

2018 Dakar Rally: Best of trucks

2018 Dakar Rally: Best of quads

Lastly, here’s a day-by-day wrapup of how the Rally played out.

MORE: Dakar Rally daily stages schedule, NBCSN broadcast schedule, list of all competitors.

MORE: Stage 14 overall Rally wrapup

MORE: Stage 13 wrapup

MORE: Stage 12 wrapup

MORE: Stage 11 wrapup

MORE: Stage 10 wrapup

MORE: Stage 9 cancelled due to weather, impassible course conditions

MORE: Stage 8 wrapup

MORE: Stage 7 wrapup

MORE: Stage 6 wrapup

MORE: Stage 5 wrapup

MORE: Stage 4 wrapup

MORE: Stage 3 wrapup

MORE: Stage 2 wrapup

MORE: Stage 1 wrapup