Denny Hamlin on Chase: “You’re living week to week now”

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Now would be a heck of a time for Joe Gibbs Racing to solve the speed woes it’s faced throughout this season.

JGR got an encouraging sign last night during qualifying at Charlotte Motor Speedway, as Kyle Busch won the pole and Denny Hamlin earned a third-place position on the grid for Saturday night’s Bank of America 500.

Performance on 1.5-mile tracks have been relatively lacking for JGR compared to the stellar showing they had on those tracks last year.

But as Hamlin explained yesterday before qualifying, the Chase format enables teams in it to potentially get hot at the right time – and JGR’s trying to do just that.

Even so, Hamlin seems to be taking a cautiously optimistic stance for the time being.

“We feel better about things obviously, but you’re living week to week now,” Hamlin said. “Your situation changes so much from week to week depending on what your situation is and points and how your day is going that you can go from having a lot of confidence to feeling like you’re going to be left out with one mistake and one race.”

It almost came to that for Hamlin in the Challenger Round.

At New Hampshire, Hamlin was running well and appeared set to go into the elimination race at Dover in great shape.

Instead, he had a fuel probe issue that knocked him several laps down and then crashed after that.

The Loudon disaster put Hamlin six points behind the cutoff and into a pressure-packed situation at the Monster Mile.

Fortunately for him, his 12th-place finish there was enough for a trip to the Contender Round – which he opened solidly last weekend at Kansas with a seventh-place run.

If he can get out of Charlotte with another good finish, Hamlin thinks he’s in for better things. He’s won at all five of the remaining Chase tracks in his career and has multiple wins on three of them (four wins at Martinsville, two apiece at Texas and Homestead).

And if JGR can keep making gains on speed, that’s all the better for him.

“Obviously, I am encouraged about how we are running at some of these tracks that haven’t been our best in the past knowing that we’re getting to those last four race tracks that we feel very, very comfortable with,” he said.

“I’m hoping we continue this trend line up and it’s heading in the right direction, I just hope it keeps going because we’re going to need that little bit of extra speed when we get to these last four.”

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.