Hamlin aims for May sweep at Charlotte

NASCAR Wire Service Thursday, May 21 1642
Denny Hamlin had one million reasons to smile Saturday.

Hamlin took home $1 million after visiting Victory Lane in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. His all-star win marked the first victory in the event for Joe Gibbs Racing since the organization began competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 1992.

More important for JGR is that Hamlin's victory came at a 1 1/2-mile track, the first at the distance since Hamlin won the season finale at Homestead in 2013. This development is important for JGR's championship hopes because five of the 10 races in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup take place at 1 1/2-mile tracks.

Unfortunately for JGR, the All-Star Race does not count toward season points.

"I know it was a shot in the arm for all of us and a lift to get a chance to run intermediate stuff and be up front with real good cars, be able to run with them," Gibbs said after Hamlin's all-star win. "We'll just have to see what this means going forward."

Hamlin gets his chance to deliver a points-paying 1 1/2-mile win to the man he calls "Coach" in Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (6 p.m. ET on FOX).

"Saturday night was big for our FedEx team," Hamlin said. "We have struggled with some speed this year and had things happen out of our control that have taken us to good finishes, so Saturday night was a great reminder what this team is capable of if we put an entire race together."

In 19 points races at Charlotte, Hamlin has four top fives and 11 top 10s but has never won. The 34-year-old Virginian claims the fourth-best average running position (12.6) and fifth-best driver rating (92.8) at the quad-oval.

Hamlin believes his seat time from the all-star race can help him finally conquer Charlotte.

"I think we learned some valuable stuff," he said. "We ran up front, re-ran in the middle, we ran in the back. I think we have an idea of what our car did. I have some really good information that I'll download with these guys next week."

On Sunday, Hamlin will have an immense challenge trying to hold off Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas Racing and Jimmie Johnson of Hendrick Motorsports, who have combined to win the last seven races at 1 1/2-mile tracks.

He acknowledged how it felt to beat them on an intermediate track even in an "exhibition" race.

"Like we talked about, we hadn't been able to run with a lot of the Hendrick cars or the Stewart-Haas cars over the last year and a half," Hamlin said. "We were able to beat them in an arm wrestling match at least for 10 laps. It was great."