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.”

IndyCar teams with NASCAR on IMS road course doubleheader in 2021

IndyCar NASCAR doubleheader 2021
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The NTT IndyCar Series will be sharing Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the NASCAR Cup Series in a race weekend doubleheader for the second consecutive season, but both series will be on the road course in August 2021.

IMS announced Wednesday that IndyCar will hold an Aug. 14, 2021 race on its 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course. It’ll be a day before NASCAR’s premier series runs the same layout for the first time after the Brickyard 400 was contested on the 2.5-mile oval for the first time in 27 years.

This season’s rescheduling of the IndyCar GMR Grand Prix to July 4, 2019 (a day before the Brickyard 400) led to the first NASCAR-IndyCar doubleheader weekend. The Xfinity Series also raced on the IMS road course for the first time July 4 after the IndyCar race ended.

INDYCAR AT IMS THIS WEEKEND: Harvest GP schedule, entry lists

IndyCar will be holding its second race weekend this year at the IMS road course Friday and Saturday with the Harvest GP.

“Our first NASCAR-INDYCAR weekend was a big success last July, with positive feedback from
our loyal fans who watched the races on NBC and from the drivers, teams and participants
involved,” IMS president Douglas Boles said in a statement. “The Xfinity Series’ debut on the IMS road course provided exactly the kind of thrilling action from the green to checkered flags that we anticipated, so we know the teams and drivers of the Cup Series will put on a great show as they turn left and right for the first time at IMS.

“We can’t wait to welcome back fans to see NASCAR and INDYCAR together during this
exciting weekend as we add another memorable chapter in the long, storied history of the
Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

It also will mark the first NASCAR Cup-IndyCar doubleheader with a crowd as fans weren’t permitted at IMS in July because of the novel coronvavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Over the course of Wednesday, NASCAR is releasing its 36-race slate for next season. IndyCar has yet to release its full 2021 schedule.