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Can Denny Hamlin return to winning ways as NASCAR returns to its fastest short track?

With only 10 weeks of regular season racing remaining, the NASCAR Cup Series is certainly heating up. And in the midst of this pivotal moment in the season, the drivers and team are faced with a curveball; Iowa Highway. This Sunday’s race will also mark the first time a Cup Series race will be held on the fastest short track oval.

There will be some interesting storylines emerging from the Corn 350 race as the drivers will try to get a much-needed win or earn enough points to stay afloat in their bid to make the playoffs. While others will look to continue their dominant run. There are several drivers being touted as the favorites to take home the win this weekend, all due to their Xfinity Series runs at the track.

That select group includes Christopher Bell, Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski and even Ricky Stenhouse Jr. But as far as short track racing goes in 2024, Joe Gibbs Racing ace Denny Hamlin also has an equal claim to be among the top contenders. for a win.

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Denny Hamlin is still looking to get back to winning ways after his win at Dover

Short track racing was a strong point for the No. 11 JGR team; that fact cannot be denied. Of the four short course events so far this season, Hamlin has emerged victorious in three of them. His first victory came in the night race at Bristol Motor Speedway, where most drivers struggled to protect their tires from excess cords.

The second win came in rather controversial fashion in Richmond when he jumped the restart line during extra time and took a potential win from teammate Martin Truex Jr. failed to emerge victorious at Martinsville, Hamlin was once again on his A-game at the Monster Mile at the Dover race, where he pulled ahead of his rival, Kyle Larson. And he also tied a record with Lee Petty for 54 Cup wins to his name.

Since then, Denny Hamlin has posted a string of four top 5 finishes, even eclipsing Larson at the top of the leaderboard. But unfortunately, an engine failure at Sonoma Raceway last weekend ended his string of consistent runs.

USA Today via Reuters

But with another tricky short track race in play, all bets are off. The controversial repaving of the race track in particular has caused confusion and nervousness in the Cup garage. This in turn could allow Denny Hamlin to take a win under everyone’s noses, and his short track racing skills could very well come into play this Sunday.

In addition to Hamlin and Larson, the focus will also be on struggling drivers. And looking at the 2024 run, there are quite a few big names that have yet to reach their milestone.

Playoffs bubble driver in focus at Iowa Speedway

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Defending Cup Series champion Ryan Blaney has struggled with bad luck since the start of the season. In addition to missing the victory in Atlanta by a record margin, his No. 12 Ford ran out of gas at Gateway Park. He was in an excellent position to win the race, but at the drop of the white flag his car came to an abrupt halt. The Penske driver is currently twelfth in the points standings and will be under constant pressure to defend his position.

Chris Buescher, another Ford driver, hovers just above the cutoff line in 13th. Like Blaney, he has often found himself at the bitter end. He was unofficially declared the winner of the Kansas race, only to find himself losing to Larson in the closest finish in NASCAR history. To make matters worse, Buescher was destroyed by Tyler Reddick in Darlington. Once again he led the race for the win, but had to settle for a P30 finish. Once again he must buckle up and get the crucial results before the pressure becomes too much for his team.

Two-time Cup Series winner Kyle Busch is also sailing in a similar boat, but in his case he hasn’t even tasted winning races yet in 2024. Yes, the triple photo finish was an exception, but that’s about it. Rowdy, without a major result to his name, is on the bubble and 15th in the points standings. Like the other driver mentioned in this list, he scored a win at Iowa during his Xfinity Series days. Although given the current state of affairs at RCR, it is indeed difficult to see him making a stunning comeback.

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Last but not least we have Joey Logano rounding out this list. The Penske driver is currently in 16th place in the points standings. He couldn’t get any closer to being out of the race for the playoffs; one bad run and he would tumble. The only silver bullet he has in his arsenal is the fact that it is a newly surfaced race track. He has enjoyed a string of wins at new tracks, the trend going back to the 2021 Bristol Dirt race, to the first Cup race at Gateway Park. As for 2024, he has raised $1 million at the newly renovated North Wilkesboro Speedway. So during this weekend’s race he’ll be wishing he could summon his magical powers again.

With no previous track record of a Cup race in Iowa, it is indeed difficult to pick a clear favorite or a struggling driver. Therefore, this weekend’s race will be an exciting affair that will keep fans on the edge of their seats.