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Deja vu would be just fine with Denny Hamlin

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The Sports Xchange
Denny Hamlin does a donut in the grass after winning the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 21, 2016 in Daytona, Florida. Photo by Edwin Locke/UPI
Denny Hamlin does a donut in the grass after winning the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 21, 2016 in Daytona, Florida. Photo by Edwin Locke/UPI | License Photo

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Denny Hamlin wouldn't mind at all if history repeated itself during Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway.

Hamlin won the Advance Auto Parts Clash, and eight days later, the driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota followed up with his first Daytona 500 victory, a breathtaking affair that saw Hamlin beat fellow Camry driver Martin Truex Jr. to the finish line by .010 seconds, a margin of roughly six inches.

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Hamlin is well aware that winning The Great American Race back-to-back is one of the toughest feats in motorsports, so tough that only three drivers have accomplished the feat: Richard Petty (1973-1974), Cale Yarborough (1983-1984) and Sterling Marlin (1994-1995).

Hamlin also knows that ganging up with his Toyota teammates may not be as easy as it was last year, when Camry drivers dominated the event and swept the three podium positions.

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"It was very important that we set out a goal -- really an objective -- to work together and really do everything we could to remain in a pack," Hamlin said on Friday, taking questions from reporters in front of a "show" version of his Daytona 500-winning car. "It worked out phenomenally.

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"But since then, everyone has seen that, and it's going to be very hard to replicate anything like that ever again. Now that the competition's seen it, it's going to be hard to do. But you've just got to come up with a new plan, something they haven't seen before."

-- ALEX BOWMAN HAPPY TO BE ALIGNED WITH HENDRICK

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After a stellar performance as a substitute driver for Dale Earnhardt Jr. last year, Alex Bowman got several offers of NASCAR rides -- but none that could induce him to leave Hendrick Motorsports, where he spends most of his time driving a simulator.

"I was kind of surprised that a winning XFINITY car or something like that didn't open up," Bowman said on Friday at Daytona International Speedway, where he'll race in Saturday night's Advance Auto Parts Clash as a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series pole winner from 2016. "At the same time, I had quite a few full-time Cup opportunities that were offered, but there really wasn't anything that was going to make me leave Hendrick Motorsports.

"I feel like I want to be part of a winning organization whether I'm driving, just working for the team, doing testing or doing the simulation stuff. Whatever I'm doing, I want to be part of a winning team. Nothing was going to drag me away from here."

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Not only that. Bowman figures he'll get the nod, should the organization need another super sub for any of its four drivers.

"Obviously, you never hope that situation comes up," Bowman said. "But I think after last year, as easy as it is for me as far as already being here with Hendrick Motorsports, I think if something did come up that I would think I would be the one that would get called for it."

-- NASCAR CRACKS DOWN ON INSPECTION 'GAMERS'

It's a given that a smart NASCAR crew chief will push the limits of the rules -- and find loopholes in existing legislation wherever they're available.

Between seasons, however, NASCAR has gone a long way to close a loophole in the inspection process. This year, if a car fails at any stage of pre-qualifying or pre-race inspection, the team must take the car back to the garage, return to specifications and start the entire process over again.

Last year, a car simply had to repeat the station it failed, the Laser Inspection Station (LIS), for example.

"Teams would go across the LIS, and purposely fail, so they would go off to the side and 'em up on jack stands," said Elton Sawyer, NASCAR vice president, officiating and technical inspection. "Not only would they fix the LIS issue, then they'd completely rebuild the top of the car and aerodynamics.

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"So we'd only send them back through the LIS. OK, as a competitor, you do that, and we have to react this way."

Even with the new procedures in place Sawyer thinks crew chiefs will continue to push the envelope -- at least initially.

"I think they will," Sawyer said. "They will have to see how much teeth we're going to put into it. If we do what we've said -- which I know we will -- then we'll see."

-- SHORT STROKES

Brad Keselowski led first Clash practice with a lap at 191.604 mph (46.972 seconds). Eleven of the 17 eligible cars participated in the opening practice, which consisted solely of single-car runs. ? In final clash practice on Friday night, the four Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas augured a repeat performance of last year's Speedweeks, filling the top four positions on the speed chart. Defending clash and Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin paced the session at 196.528 mph, followed by rookie teammate Daniel Suarez (196.279 mph).

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