NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
 
            === Hamlin aiming for Speedweeks trifecta at Daytona ===
 
 Daytona Beach, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - Denny Hamlin is on a mission this week
 at Daytona International Speedway.
 
 Hamlin  kicked off  Speedweeks  at  Daytona by  winning  the Sprint  Unlimited
 preseason  event  and then scored the  victory in second race of the Budweiser
 Duel.  Now  he's striving to win  Sunday's Daytona 500 -- the most prestigious
 stock car race of the season.
 
 How hungry is Hamlin for a victory in the Daytona 500?
 
 "Starving," he said.
 
 Hamlin  concluded  the 2013 Sprint  Cup Series  season by winning at Homestead
 (Nov. 17), and he's been undefeated since then.
 
 A  victory in the Daytona 500 will be a much tougher task for Hamlin, compared
 to the Unlimited, which was 187.5 miles in length, and the Duel, a distance of
 150 miles.
 
 "I  think the biggest  challenge for myself is keeping the reins back only for
 400  miles, 450 miles," Hamlin said. "When you go out here and you perform the
 way  we have  over these last few races,  it's hard not to just want to go out
 there,  charge  out there,  show that you're  still on top  and still the best
 right on lap one."
 
 If  Hamlin wins  the Daytona 500 or  any other race during the 26-race regular
 season,  it would  all but guarantee him  a berth in this year's Chase for the
 Sprint Cup championship.
 
 Three  weeks ago, NASCAR revealed sweeping changes to the Chase, expanding the
 field  of  drivers/teams from 12  to 16 and  including a series of elimination
 rounds  to determine  the Sprint  Cup champion.  The top-15  (points-eligible)
 drivers  with the  most wins after the  regular season concludes on Sept. 6 at
 Richmond will be eligible for the playoffs.
 
 Last  year, Hamlin  failed to make the  Chase for the first time in his eight-
 year  Sprint Cup  career. He finished 23rd in points. Hamlin missed four races
 early in the season after he suffered a compression fracture in his lower back
 during an accident in the March 24 event in Fontana, Calif.
 
 Hamlin's  track time has been limited since his win in the Duel. The driver of
 the  No. 11 Joe  Gibbs Racing Toyota made 22 laps during Friday's practice for
 the Daytona 500. He skipped Saturday's final practice.
 
 "I'm  very pleased.  Everything seems to be good," Hamlin said. "At this point
 now,  it's up to the team to go through that checklist and make sure we've got
 our t's crossed and i's dotted."
 
 No  driver has ever won the preseason event, the Daytona 500 qualifier and the
 500-mile  race in the  same week. Kevin Harvick was poised to do it last year,
 winning  the Unlimited  and the Duel, but Harvick finished 42nd in the Daytona
 500 after being involved in an accident in the early going.
 
 Hamlin  and  his JGR  teammate, Matt  Kenseth, secured the  second row for the
 Daytona  500 by virtue of their wins in the Duel. Austin Dillon, a rookie this
 year,  and Martin Truex  Jr. had already claimed the front row since they were
 the top-two finishers in last Sunday's time trials. Dillon won the pole with a
 lap at 196.019 mph.
 
 Team owner Joe Gibbs is hoping to end a 21-year winless drought in the Daytona
 500.  Gibbs,  who won  three  Super  Bowls as  Head  Coach  of the  Washington
 Redskins, entered Sprint Cup competition in 1992 with driver Dale Jarrett. One
 year  later,  Jarrett won the  Daytona 500 to give  Gibbs his first victory in
 NASCAR's top racing circuit.
 
 "We've  come with great cars over the years," Gibbs said. "It shows you what a
 tough  race this  is, the  500.  We won  once.  Probably one  of the  greatest
 sporting  experiences  I've ever had.  I was thrilled...This race is extremely
 hard to win. That probably says it best, over 22 years, that's a bunch."
 
 Hamlin  will compete in the Daytona 500 for the ninth time. His best finish in
 this race is fourth, which came in 2012. He finished 14th last year.
 
 Kenseth is a two-time Daytona 500 winner. His 2009 and '12 victories came when
 he  drove  for Roush  Fenway Racing.  Kenseth moved  over to  JGR for the 2013
 season.  He led the  most laps in last year's Daytona 500 with 86 but finished
 37th after he suffered engine failure with 50 laps to go.
 
 Kyle  Busch,  who drives  the No.  18 Toyota for  JGR, will  start 37th in the
 Daytona 500 after finishing 20th in the first Duel event.
 
 Toyota has yet to win the Daytona 500.
 
 Nine  drivers will  have to start this race  from the rear of the field due to
 either  backup  cars or  engine changes.  Truex lost  his second starting spot
 after wrecking his primary car during the final lap of the second Duel race.
 
 With Truex moving to the back, Kenseth will start second and Hamlin third.
 
 Jimmie  Johnson, Jamie McMurray, Michael Waltrip, Clint Bowyer and David Ragan
 also  wrecked their  cars during the second Duel. Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick
 and Bobby Labonte suffered engine failure during practice last week.
 
 This  is  the third  car for  Johnson during Speedweeks.  He crashed his first
 vehicle in the Sprint Unlimited.
 
 "We've  been very impressed  and happy with the speed this third car has had,"
 Johnson said. "But it's not a situation we wanted to be in, by any means."
 
 Johnson  will attempt to win a third consecutive Sprint Cup points-paying race
 at  Daytona. He  won the Daytona 500 one  year ago and then followed up with a
 victory in the 400-mile race here in July.
 
 Cale  Yarborough is  the only driver who has won three Cup points-paying races
 in  a  row  at Daytona.  Yarborough's  victories  came  in  the 1967  and  '68
 Firecracker 400s and the '68 Daytona 500.
 
 Last  year, Johnson became the first driver to score a season-sweep at Daytona
 since  Bobby  Allison in  1982. Johnson  went on  to win  his sixth Sprint Cup
 championship,  putting  him one title  away from  tying Richard Petty and Dale
 Earnhardt for the record.
 
 Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Sunday, Feb. 23. Race: Daytona 500. Site:
 Daytona International Speedway. Track: 2.5-mile tri-oval. Start time: 1 p.m.
 ET. Laps: 200. Miles: 500. 2013 Winner:: Jimmie Johnson. Television: FOX.
 Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.
 
 
 02/22 15:04:18 ET

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