CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Denny Hamlin has targeted the April 27 race at his home track in Richmond for his potential return from a back injury.
Time will tell if Hamlin will run in that Sprint Cup race. But he does know he can't do the Short Track Showdown, his annual charity race held two days before the Cup event.
Hamlin has tabbed Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth to replace him in the Showdown, which benefits the Denny Hamlin Cystic Fibrosis Research Lab at the Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU.
"Obviously, it kills me to not be able to race in the Short Track Showdown," Hamlin said. "I grew up racing these cars against some of the best in the area, and it's always fun to come back and do it again. But my injury won't allow that this year."
Hamlin suffered a compression fracture of a vertebra in his lower back in a last-lap accident at California on March 24. Doctors said he'll miss at least five races, but Hamlin is trying to come back early in time to race at Richmond, where he's a two-time winner.
But he loves his charity race, which is filled with top drivers like three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart and locals including C.E. Faulk. Now the field will include Kenseth, a two-time Daytona 500 winner and 2003 NASCAR champion.
"Matt has been a great teammate since coming to Joe Gibbs Racing, and I have to thank him for stepping in for me in this race," Hamlin said. "There's a great list of drivers in this year's field, and I know they'll put on an awesome show for the fans at RIR."
Kenseth, who has stayed in constant contact with Hamlin since his injury, was happy to step in for his new teammate.
"I'm honored that Denny asked me to fill his seat," said Kenseth. "It's a good event for a great cause and I know that it won't be easy for him to sit out his own charity race. We'll have a good time raising some money for the Denny Hamlin Foundation. I just hope some of Denny's magic at Richmond comes with the number on the side of the car."
PIT CREW COMPETITION: NASCAR's annual Pit Crew Competition has been canceled this year because no title sponsor was found.
The event showcased the pit crews and was a staple of NASCAR's All-Star weekend the last eight years. Sprint had most recently been the title sponsor of the event, which had both individual and team competitions.
But Sprint re-allocated its sponsorship money this year and NASCAR was unable to find alternative funding in time to move forward with next month's event.
The winner of the team competition won the first pick of pit stall in the All-Star race. NASCAR will now revert back to the traditional pit stall selection process, which is based on qualifying results.
JR GOES DRIFTING: IndyCar Series driver JR Hildebrand will compete in select Formula Drift series events this year for Tyler McQuarrie Racing.
Hildebrand is signed up for at least two events so far — he'll drive the No. 6 Chevrolet Camaro at Evergreen Speedway in Seattle in July, and at Irwindale Speedway in California in October.
"I'm pumped to join Tyler with his Camaro program and to get into Formula D," Hildebrand said. "Since as early as 2004 I've thought drifting was an awesome and unique area of motorsport, so I'm very excited to finally get involved myself."
McQuarrie and Hildebrand developed a friendship through their mutual association with personal sponsor GoPro, and Hildebrand wanted to try Formula D. The two drifted together last year and some of the exploits were captured and posted on YouTube in a "Caddy Ruckus" video.
"This will be my 10th year in Formula Drift and my second year as a team owner," McQuarrie said. "To partner with JR Hildebrand, and to have him compete as our second driver is huge for our team and a big step for Formula Drift. This is something JR and I have been working on for some time now, so to see it become a reality is awesome."
HOME TRACK SUCCESS: zMAX Dragway at Charlotte Motor Speedway is considered the home track for Greg Anderson. But there's little relaxing leading into next weekend's NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at the dragstrip in Concord.
Anderson, who races for Mooresville-based KB Racing, will be going for a third consecutive victory in the nationals, and April 19-21 event. Although his close proximity to the track gives him ample testing time, the pressure is on to perform in front of friends and family.
So far it's worked out OK for Anderson.
"It seems like the races where there is more pressure are hugely important to us, and it seems to be those are the ones that we are able to capitalize on," said Anderson. "I don't have the answer to why, but apparently there's always something left in our minds that we can find to add a little more focus."
Anderson won his first event at the dragway in 2010, and has won three of the last five, including the last two four-wide contests. It makes him the winningest driver in zMAX history.
"I wish I could explain the success we've had there," he said. "It's so much of a challenge for a driver. It offers like 15 new ways for a driver to look like an idiot out there — for a driver to fail. We're going to have to have our cars at top song. You've got to have a fast race car, otherwise you can't win these days. The competition in this class is, right now, tougher than it's ever been. There's not a standout favorite anymore."