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MENCS: Denny Hamlin Returns to Langley and His Roots

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RICHMOND, VA — Denny Hamlin won when he returned to his roots this past week, hosting his Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown at Langley Speedway on Thursday night — an event that had been on a two year hiatus.

The late model stock car charity event hosted 33 drivers, including Hamlin, Kyle Busch, CE Falk III, Timothy Peters, Ty Gibbs, and Ryan Vargas. The pair of of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers dominated, but didn’t quite run away with the event. Hamlin led most of the race, in route to his win, while Busch spent plenty of laps defending second from Falk III.

It was a “great battle” and “a fun night,” according to Hamlin. He said his organization “raised some good money” and is “going to continue to want to build (the) event to be a big one for (the late model stock car drivers) going forward.”

“Last night was a great success. We had such a great turnout. They were able to put in temporary grandstands, and that was a good thing, anytime you can fill up a track like that.”

“It was the first time I got cheers in Virginia in a really long time, so that was a welcome change,” said Hamlin. “It’s a lot of fun when you get that kind of support, and especially the Hampton (Va) area. That was a big deal for that town. … I keep increasing the purse at the race to give back to those guys. They work so hard — they’re probably at a track right now racing on their normal weekly racing series, so for them to have to prepare a car for Thursday night to accommodate our schedules is great.”

Hamlin’s win, and the success of his event, may have given him a much needed shot of confidence. He has finished outside the top-10 in the last three Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races. Notably, two of those races were run on short tracks, Hamlin’s bread and butter.

Even though Hamlin got his start racing late model stocks in events similar to his own, he doesn’t think any of the other drivers in his charity race could get into a cup car and be successful. “You can’t just jump to this level and be competitive,” said Hamlin, “but are they capable, yeah.”

“I think it just takes time to work your way up through the series. I think that’s the good thing we do have in NASCAR, the feeder series whether it be the K&N (Pro) Series, the Trucks or Xfinity. You have to go through that process. You just can’t jump in the Cup cars and be competitive with the greats that are out there.”

There, however, is respect for the grass roots drivers; in the run-up to the charity race, Hamlin and Busch tested at the speedway. Hamlin said, “It’s tough to go out there at someone’s home track, or their home cars and beat them. That’s not as easy you would think. That’s why Kyle (Busch) and I went out and tested – we didn’t want to be embarrassed when we went out there.”

Hamlin may laud the supposed ladder system but he still understands how difficult it can be to climb. “There’s probably so many great drivers we don’t know about and will never hear about because the process to get here is so difficult. You just can’t rely on natural talent to take you to the top anymore. … The chances of making it are slim, but it can happen. We’re seeing guys – Erik Jones – coming up through the ranks and winning and making it to the top level, so it still can be done.”

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver may not think everyone in his charity race is ready for a national series debut, but with his annual event it’s difficult to argue that he doesn’t care about the grass roots of racing.

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