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Sprint Cup drivers focus on wild-card chances

Sat., Aug. 20, 2011, midnight

Denny Hamlin, center, could make more pals by winning this week’s Sprint Cup race. (Associated Press)
Denny Hamlin, center, could make more pals by winning this week’s Sprint Cup race. (Associated Press)

Denny Hamlin won Michigan’s Sprint Cup race back in June. If he can repeat the feat this weekend, he might have a few more fans than usual.

Hamlin stands 12th in the points standings and is in line to earn one of two wild-card spots for NASCAR’s postseason, but if he can move into the top 10 it could open a wild-card chance for someone else. That’s one of several subplots as drivers scramble to qualify for the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup. There are four races remaining in the regular season.

“One extra win, by myself or someone else, completely changes the game,” Hamlin said.

The top 10 drivers and the two drivers with the most victories in 11th to 20th place earn spots for the Chase. Right now, Brad Keselowski has the inside track to one wild card. He’s in 14th place with two wins. Hamlin has just the one win from earlier this year at Michigan International Speedway at Brooklyn, but that might be enough, since nobody else chasing a wild-card spot has more at this point.

Paul Menard (15th place) has a victory as well, so he can give his chances a major boost by winning again.

“Our focus, even more so than before, shifts to getting the second win and doing all we can to try and get that second win,” Menard said. “Throwing the dice on the table and seeing what we’ve got.”

• Greg Biffle won the pole for Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway.

Biffle posted a qualifying lap of 190.345 mph for his first pole since June 2008. Biffle is 13th in the points standings but without a win this year. A victory would be a significant boost to his hopes of reaching the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Matt Kenseth was second in qualifying, and Ryan Newman captured third.

Biffle is coming off a 31st-place finish at Watkins Glen. After that race, he confronted Boris Said in the pits afterward and gave him a couple of quick hits while Said was still in his car.

Said had touched off a wild crash at the end of the road race.

Nationwide Series

Local favorite Jacques Villeneuve earned the pole position for the NAPA Auto Parts 200 in Montreal. He will have some familiar company in the front row, too.

Villeneuve used his last lap in the last six-car qualifying group to post the best time of 1 minute, 41.8 seconds in qualifying for today’s Nationwide race.

He edged Penske Dodge teammate and fellow Canadian Alex Tagliani, whose best time was 1:41.935.

The 40-year-old Villeneuve is driving the No. 22 Dodge that Kurt Busch used to win last week at Watkins Glen. He said he feels he has the best cars on the track for the first time since he edged Michael Schumacher for the 1997 Formula One title during his time with Williams Renault.

“We knew we had prepared the car and we’d be up there fighting,” he said. “We’re still at the Elkhart Lake setup (in June), so you can just relax and concentrate on driving the car well instead of finding gremlins in the car or trying to invent a new setup overnight.”

It was Villeneuve’s first pole position in any series since he won 10 in 1997.

Now he has a chance to win a race on the track named after his father, Gilles, for the first time since 1993 in the Formula Atlantic series. He was second to teammate Damon Hill in his first attempt in 1996 with Williams, but never came close again in F1.



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