Denny Hamlin on pole for Bristol night race

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With the pole position in hand for tomorrow’s Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, Denny Hamlin is looking forward to trying to end what has been a tough stretch of races for him in recent times.

Results from the last nine events have been quite mediocre for the driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Since logging an eighth-place finish at Pocono in June, Hamlin has not finished higher than 18th (Indianapolis) with three DNFs along the way.

That’s made him vow to be, in his words, “as aggressive as [he] possibly can to get a win” tomorrow in Thunder Valley. But, being the good teammate, he also wants to help JGR compatriots Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch as they look to maintain their places in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

“Our job for the rest of the year is to do what we can for our teammates, for our manufacturers to try to be a guinea pig if we need to — whatever it takes to get a championship for Toyota or Joe Gibbs Racing,” said Hamlin.

“We’re going to try to sacrifice. We pay the price for that sometimes with results, but my job — I’ve had teammates who have not been part of the Chase before and I’ve asked them to try different things, so we’ve got to be that guy now.”

Hamlin threw down a lap at 128.969 miles per hour to earn the pole for tomorrow’s 500-lap event ahead of five-time Bristol winner Kurt Busch (128.770 mph), who is looking to strengthen his chances of making the Chase while talk continues to swirl about which team he’ll end up with in 2014.

“You know, it’s like a checklist that you go through each time you get in the car,” said Busch. “One of those items is to just block out the outside world and know that what is at hand right now is a qualifying run.

“Tomorrow is 500 laps at Bristol, where I have to protect my car and make sure we don’t try to push any issues on restarts. And then to have the outside guys knocking on the door going, ‘Hey we want you to drive,’ – it’s a good confidence booster, to say the least.”

Carl Edwards and Brian Vickers will roll off from the second row, with Matt Kenseth and last week’s winner Joey Logano sitting in Row 3. Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr. and Aric Almirola round out the Top 10 on Saturday’s grid.

Danica says goodbye: ‘Definitely not a great ending’ but ‘I’m for sure grateful’

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INDIANAPOLIS – Danica Patrick’s final racing news conference didn’t go quite as planned, but at least she didn’t lose her sense of humor about it.

“Is that like the Oscars when they close the show out?” Patrick joked when her opening address was drowned out by the midrace broadcast of Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 in the media center. “Take my mic away. I’ll leave. I promise. I don’t really want to be here because I’m pretty sad, but all right. I guess I’ll stop there.”

That was about as lighthearted as it got, though, for the most accomplished female driver in racing history after the final start of her career. That naturally made for some reflection, too.

“I will say that I’m for sure very grateful for everybody,” she said. “It still was a lot of great moments this month. A lot of great moments this year.”

Patrick was the first woman to lead both the Indianapolis 500 (in her 2005 debut) and the Daytona 500 (in 2013 when she also was the first female to qualify on pole position in NACAR history).

But she couldn’t bookend that with similarly memorable finishes. After crashing out of her final two Cup races in the November 2017 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway and the 2018 Daytona 500, Indy concluded the same way.

“Definitely not a great ending,” she said. “But I kind of said before I came here that it could be a complete disaster, as in not in the ballpark at all. And look silly, then people may remember that. And if I win, people will remember that.

“Probably anything in between might just be a little part of the big story. So I kind of feel like that’s how it is. I’m appreciative for all the fans, for GoDaddy, for Ed Carpenter Racing, for IndyCar. Today was a tough day. A little bit of it was OK. A lot of it was just a typical drive.”

Beforehand, Patrick seemed relaxed while smiling and laughing outside her car with a tight circle of close friends and family that included her parents and boyfriend Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers quarterback.

“For sure, I was definitely nervous,” she said about her first Indy 500 start in seven years. “I found myself most of the time on the grid being confused what part of prerace we were in. I was like, ‘I remember this,’ and ‘Where are the Taps?’ and ‘When is the anthem?’ but I had all my people around me, so I was in good spirits.”

And with that, she bid adieu.

“Thank you guys,” she said. “Thank you for everything. I’ll miss you. Most of the time. Maybe you’ll miss me just a little. Thanks, guys.”