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Hamlin won?t change approach for All-Star Race

NASCAR.com

Fresh off his first full race since returning from a back injury, Denny Hamlin says he doesn't plan to alter how he approaches this week's NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.

While there may not be any points on the line, there is a checkered flag, and for Hamlin that seems to be more than enough incentive.

"I want to win," the Joe Gibbs Racing driver said last week prior to a runner-up finish in the Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, "so I'm going to do everything I can and be as aggressive as I would any other race.

"Usually in the All-Star Race, the closer up front you are the less out of trouble you are, so I'm going to try to do everything I can to be up front and if not it will just be a good test session weekend."

The 29th running of the annual event is scheduled for Saturday, May 18, at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Hamlin is one of 22 drivers expected to line up for the 90-lap race, which will be run in five total segments -- the first four for 20 laps each and the final for 10 laps.

Hamlin, who missed four consecutive races after fracturing a vertebra in his lower back at Auto Club Speedway, completed 24 laps at Talladega Superspeedway May 5 before turning his car over to Brian Vickers. The Darlington race was his first complete event since the injury.

"Really if I didn't feel like I was going to be 100 percent and be able to go for it with a lot of confidence then I wouldn't run it," Hamlin said, "but I was very encouraged after looking at the last scan that the progress that I've made that they were comfortable that I could take a hit here or there."

Nineteen of the drivers in this year's All-Star event earned a starting spot by either winning at least one points race since the start of the 2012 season or by having won an All-Star Race within the past 10 years.

Southern 500 winner Matt Kenseth locked in his spot early last year, winning the season-opening Daytona 500 while still with Roush Fenway Racing. With a series-leading three wins in 2013 since moving over to Joe Gibbs Racing, Kenseth, 41, will no doubt be among the favorites.

On the other end of the qualifying calendar is David Ragan, the Front Row Motorsports driver who earned his ticket with a victory in the this year's Aaron's 499 at Talladega.

Ragan will be making just his third All-Star start. Prior to his Talladega victory, the weekend plan was to use the Sprint Showdown, the preliminary event from which the top two finishers will transfer to the Sprint All-Star Race, as a test for the following week's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.

"We've got to scrap that plan and get ready for the segments," Ragan said. "I don't even know what the segments are for the All-Star Race this year. I'm probably not the only one, but I need to look into that."

Two drivers, Mark Martin and Kurt Busch, qualified as former All-Star Race winners. Martin scored his win in 2005 while Busch took the top spot in 2010.

Besides the winner and runner-up from the Showdown earning berths in the All-Star Race, the final spot in the 22-car field will be determined via fan vote.

? Among the notables in the Sprint Showdown are Richard Childress Racing drivers Jeff Burton and Paul Menard; Earnhardt Ganassi Racing's Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya; Martin Truex Jr. (Michael Waltrip Racing); Aric Almirola (Richard Petty Motorsports); as well as Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidates Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Danica Patrick.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and AJ Allmendinger finished 1-2 in the Sprint Showdown a year ago to advance while Bobby Labonte was chosen via fan vote.

Related: Cast your Sprint Fan Vote

? Change in plans: Defending race winner Jimmie Johnson had trained for four months in order to compete in a triathlon the morning of the All-Star Race.

But when the five-time Cup champion learned his daughter would be participating in a dance recital that same morning, Johnson made the fatherly choice.

"(The recital) is at 9 and the triathlon starts at 8 o'clock," Johnson said. "That's going to be a little tough to pull off. I even tried to see if we could move the show to later in the day and it's not going to work.

"I'm bummed I'm not going to be able to make that race, because I'm ready and prepared for it. At the same time I will be running a camcorder of sorts filming Evie dancing around. It will be good."

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