BUSCH: Richmond: Denny Hamlin preview

Local Favorite Denny Hamlin, Z-Line Designs Go Primetime In Friday Night's Busch Series Circuit City 250 at Richmond HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (May 2, 2007) -- Friday night under the lights in front of the home folks with Z-Line Designs on his No. 20...

Local Favorite Denny Hamlin, Z-Line Designs Go Primetime In Friday Night's Busch Series Circuit City 250 at Richmond

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (May 2, 2007) -- Friday night under the lights in front of the home folks with Z-Line Designs on his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) Chevrolet and the NASCAR Busch Series race's title sponsor -- Circuit City -- on the hood: It just doesn't get any better for Denny Hamlin this weekend at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.

The 26-year-old NASCAR NEXTEL Cup regular, who grew up in nearby Chesterfield, Va., is set for his seventh Busch Series start of the season in the No. 20 JGR Chevrolet during Friday night's Circuit City 250 presented by Funai. Hamlin will be carrying the red and black colors of first-year NASCAR sponsor Z-Line Designs for the very first time and hopes to score his third career Busch Series victory before all is said and done.

It will be the third Busch Series appearance in the NASCAR "rookie" season for sponsor Z-Line Designs, the California-based company that is the nation's leading designer and manufacturer of state-of-the art, ready-to-assemble home and office furnishings. Although new to NASCAR, the Z-Line name is no stranger to the U.S. motorsports arena as it is currently in its second year of participation on the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series, adorning the sleek Daytona Prototype of drivers Michael Valiente and Rob Finlay in the No. 19 Z-Line Designs Lexus Riley campaigned by Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Last weekend at scenic Virginia International Raceway not far down the road in Alton, Va., Valiente and Finlay brought home a top-20 finish in the VIR 400.

Earlier this year, it was two-time Nextel Cup champion Tony Stewart who had the honor of debuting the Z-Line NASCAR paint scheme at California Speedway, where he brought home a near top-10 finish in its very first outing. Hamlin's fellow Virginian, 28-year-old Kevin Conway out of Lynchburg, made his first of eight scheduled starts in Z-Line livery in March at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, where he started 27th and finished 26th in his first-ever appearance at the ominous high-banked, half-mile concrete oval.

Conway will be back in the driver's seat for Z-Line's next Busch Series appearance at Dover (Del.) International Speedway next month -- appropriately enough for the seasoned race car driver who doubles as a one-man motorsports marketing machine and is credited with orchestrating the deal that brought Z-Line Designs to NASCAR and Joe Gibbs Racing.

But meanwhile, Hamlin will hope to make the most of his first and only cameo appearance for Z-Line in 2007 by driving his way to victory lane come Friday night on Richmond's challenging three-quarter-mile, high-banked tri-oval. Judging by his solid start to the 2007 Busch season, and the excitement of competing on his "home" race track for the first time this year, Hamlin is certainly a good bet to be fighting it out at the front of the pack as they count down the closing laps. In his six starts this season, Hamlin has a pair of runner-up finishes in the No. 20 JGR Chevrolet at Mexico City and Texas. He'll be hoping to go one better and add to his two previous career Busch Series wins last season at Mexico City and Darlington (S.C.).

Denny Hamlin -- driver of the No. 20 Z-Line Designs Chevrolet in the NASCAR Busch Series race at Richmond:

After a full year in Nextel Cup and with everything that you've accomplished, is there a certain sense of pride and a heightened sense of awareness when you go back to Richmond? Or do you view it as just another race?

"I know it's not just another race for me. When I go to Richmond, there's definitely a lot more pressure. I'm constantly looking in the stands at the people cheering me on and that means a lot to me. I take a lot of pride in trying to run well there because I spent so many years watching from there. When I do have a good run there, it means just a little bit more there than it does anywhere else."

How long ago was it when you were on the other side of the fence looking in and saying, "That's what I want to do."

"I was there in 2003 watching races. Last year, I was just amazed at seeing my car down there. I think it was last year doing hospitality. I looked down and my car was starting on the pole for the Cup race. I remember walking in the stands and seeing the guys line up their cars for the race. It was just amazing to me. That was kind of a surreal moment."

When you go to Richmond, do you have to balance seeing family and friends with what your obligations are on the Busch and Nextel Cup side?

"Yes. In the past, I really spent a lot of time doing appearances and seeing a lot of people during race week. But we're taking a little bit of a different approach this year. We're clearing the schedule and taking the time to relax. I think that will probably make me better on race day. When you see everyone and you shake hands and you take care of this person or that person, it takes a little bit of your concentration. So I think taking the approach of relaxing and doing my business there, I think we'll run better."

Describe a lap around Richmond.

"Richmond is a track where you've got to be really, really careful getting into turn one. I've been bitten many times getting up there trying to get higher and higher to find grip and ended up getting in the marbles. It's a track where the groove seems to move up higher and higher every time we go there. I think with the Car of Tomorrow, it's going to be even higher because you're going to have guys chasing clean air and trying to get away from the car in front of them. I wouldn't be surprised to see that we were literally running right up next to the wall at Richmond. That's just going to make for better racing."

When you ran the Busch race at Phoenix, was there much difference with how the Busch car drove on Saturday compared to the Car of Tomorrow on Sunday? Are you still able to learn from running the Busch race on Saturday, or is translating that information to the Cup car like comparing apples to oranges?

"They're so different that you really can't take anything. It was a bit of a transition for me to try to go from one to the other, but it took five laps or so to get it right. Qualifying was the biggest hurdle going from one to the other. It's just a few laps where you can distinguish it, but it takes about 20 laps once you get in the race to get rid of all of the bugs that the Busch car put in your head for Saturday's race. You've just got to realize what you're in."

-credit: jgr

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About this article
Drivers Tony Stewart , Chip Ganassi , Kevin Conway , Denny Hamlin , Rob Finlay , Felix Sabates
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing , Joe Gibbs Racing