Hamlin rounding into competitive form
HUNTERSVILLE – Denny Hamlin’s driving performances have improved the past six weeks. He’s still a long way from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series lead (78 points behind leader Jeff Gordon), but another few weeks like the past several could change that quickly.
Hamlin, who lives in Cornelius and drives the No. 11 Toyota for Huntersville-based Joe Gibbs Racing, finished fourth in the Pocono 400 on June 8. It came a week after he finished fifth at Dover and was Hamlin’s fourth top-10 finish in the past six races.
He’s eighth in the Sprint Cup points race, and his victory this season (at Talladega) likely insures a spot in the season-ending Cup Chase.
Crash spoils points leader
HUNTERSVILLE – Matt Kenseth, who drives for Huntersville-based Joe Gibbs Racing, began last weekend’s race at Pocono as the Sprint Cup Series points leader. It didn’t last long, as Kenseth crashed into Jamie McMurray. The damage and repair ended with Kenseth finishing 25th and dropping him to second in the points race. He’s 16 points behind leader Jeff Gordon. Kenseth hasn’t won this season, but he’s been in the top 10 in eight of the past 10 races.
Larson is the leading rookie
HUNTERSVILLE – Kyle Larson is the leader in NASCAR’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings. He has 171 points, followed by Austin Dillon (145 points), Justin Algaier (114), and Michael Annett and Cole Whitt (103 points each).
Larson, who lives in Huntersville and drives for Chip Ganassi Racing, was fifth in the Sprint Cup’s Pocono 400 last weekend. He also recorded his first lap as a leader in the series.
To prepare for his Pocono debut, Larson drove a manual transmission rental car the week before to become accustomed to shifting gears, something drivers are required to do multiple times each lap when they’re racing at Pocono.
Nationwide features tight race
HUNTERSVILLE – After an idle week, Nationwide Series standings leader Regan Smith and second-place Elliott Sadler will begin the longest stretch of the schedule.
Smith and Sadler are separated by four points in the standings through 12 races. Smith has a series-leading 12 top-10 finishes, including the season-opening win at Daytona. Sadler has an average finish of 8.6 with five top-five finishes including a win at Talladega. The series begins an 18-week stretch of consecutive races from Iowa (13th race of the season) to Charlotte (30th of the season).
We rank Herald Weekly-area drivers in the racing world:
1. Matt Kenseth – His move into the Sprint Cup Series points lead lasted only a week. Crashed into Jamie McMurray’s car and never recovered (25th place finish) at Pocono last week. Dropped to second in the standings.
2. Denny Hamlin – Finished fourth at Pocono in the Sprint Cup race and has been an improving driver the past six races.
3. Kyle Larson – Finished fifth in last week’s Sprint Cup race at Pocono. It was his first start there in a national series points race, and he led a lap for the first time in 2014.
4. Elliott Sadler – Perched in second place in the Nationwide Series points standings, but only four points behind. Will likely battle Regan Smith and Chase Elliott until the end.
5. Kyle Busch – He’s sixth in the Sprint Cup Series points race and a consistent winner in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck series.