Ham­lin read­ies to de­fend NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race win

Cecil Whig - - LOCAL SPORTS - Staff RE­PORT

NASCAR Wire Ser­vice

Denny Ham­lin cur­rently holds the ti­tle of ‘reign­ing cham­pion’ for two of NASCAR’s most pres­ti­gious races: the Day­tona 500 and the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. Come Satur­day night, he will look to con­tinue the stran­gle hold on one of them, at­tempt­ing to cap­ture a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive win in Satur­day’s NASCAR Sprint All-Star race at Charlotte Mo­tor Speedway (9 p.m. ET on FS1).

In or­der to take home the ti­tle, Ham­lin will need to nav­i­gate the new all-star race for­mat, con­sist­ing of two 50lap seg­ments and a 13-lap dash to the fin­ish. Driv­ers must make three manda­tory two-tire-min­i­mum pit stops through­out the race: one in Seg­ment 1, the sec­ond dur­ing the break be­fore Seg­ment 2 and the third be­fore lap 85 in Seg­ment 2.

A ran­dom draw de­ter­mines whether the top nine, 10 or 11 cars must en­ter pit road for a manda­tory four­tire pit stop prior to the fi­nal 13-lap dash. Pit road will be closed for all other cars and pit-road exit will de­ter­mine the start­ing or­der. To start the fi­nal seg­ment, those cars that pit­ted will line up be­hind those that did not.

The new for­mat should cause wild rac­ing in the sprint to the fin­ish as driv- ers on new tires at­tempt to catch and pass their peers on old ones, all in the hopes of a $1 mil­lion bonus to the win­ner.

“Ob­vi­ously, I think last year’s for­mat was per­fect for us,” Ham­lin joked. “But at the same time, this will be ex­cit­ing for fans and as driv­ers and teams, it will re­ally force you to think through strat­egy and test how risky you want to be. It’s an ex­hi­bi­tion event where we lay ev­ery­thing on the line for a mil­lion bucks, so any for­mat will make the driv­ers get up on the wheel and throw cau­tion to the wind.”

Ham­lin’s NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race vic­tory was the first for Joe Gibbs Rac­ing in its 24 years com­pet­ing in the event. Since then, JGR has been the top team in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Se­ries, win­ning 19 of the last 36 (52.7%) points-pay­ing races. Fur­ther prov­ing his met­tle as a big-race driver, Ham­lin took the checkered flag in this year’s Day­tona 500, win­ning the race by the clos­est mar­gin of vic­tory in its his­tory.

“As a driver, there’s go­ing to be a lot of strat­egy played with crew chiefs and driv­ers,” Ham­lin said. “To see how it all works out, we’ll have to see on track Satur­day.

“I per­son­ally look for­ward to it. It should be pretty ex­cit­ing.”

Crafton goes for sec­ond con­sec­u­tive vic­tory at Charlotte

The NASCAR Camp­ing World Truck Se­ries’ sleep­ing giant has awo­ken.

One week af­ter fin­ish­ing run­ner-up at Kansas, Matt Crafton pro­duced his first win of the sea­son at Dover In­ter­na­tional Speedway last Fri­day.

As a re­sult of his sec­ond straight top-two fin­ish, Crafton jumped to first in the NCWTS stand­ings, two points ahead of Timothy Peters. In five starts, the No. 11 ThorS­port Toy­ota Tun­dra driver claims one win, two top fives and four top 10s.

Crafton will com­pete for his sec­ond win in as many weeks in Fri­day’s North Carolina Ed­u­ca­tion Lottery 200 at Charlotte Mo­tor Speedway (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1). The Tu­lare, Cal­i­for­nia na­tive won his first race at the 1.5-mile track and also owns five top fives, 10 top 10s and an 8.2 av­er­age fin­ish in 13 starts there.

“Charlotte is a multi-groove track,” Crafton said. “Even though it has fairly new as­phalt, you can move around quite a bit, and that’s what makes it so much fun. The track al­ways puts on a great show for the fans. It’s al­ways fun for me to go back there, be­cause it’s the place where I got my first NASCAR Camp­ing World Truck Se­ries vic­tory.”

GETTY IM­AGES FOR NASCAR

Austin Dil­lon poses for a photo af­ter win­ning the Coors Light Pole Award dur­ing qual­i­fy­ing for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Se­ries Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in March.

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