Thursday June 20th, 2019 5:39PM

Hamlin hopes hole-in-one is a good omen for Phoenix

By Reid Spencer-NASCAR Wire Service
  Contact Editor

AVONDALE, Ariz. – Denny Hamlin hit a high draw with a 7 iron from 178 yards, and the ball never left the flag.

“The number was perfect, the distance was perfect, and I hit it perfect,” Hamlin said after Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice on Friday at ISM Raceway. “That one was pure all the way.”

When the ball disappeared into the cup on the second hole at Whisper Rock Golf Club on Thursday, Hamlin had the second hole-in-one of his life.

“Yeah, it was awesome,” he said. “I hadn’t had one since I was a 25 handicap, and it was 15 years ago. The first one was just luck. I didn’t hit it very good. I just luckily hit the pin, but this one was true the whole way.”

“I remember us talking to it in the air, saying, ‘Wow, this is close.'”

You’d think Hamlin would have kept the scorecard to frame and display after the round. Instead, he tore it up. Hamlin was so giddy from the ace that the rest of the round was eminently forgettable. What he shot for 18 holes remains a secret.

“I refuse to give that information up, because I tore the card up as soon as it was over,” Hamlin said. “I had a ‘7’ after it, I’ll be honest. It was a par-5, and I was not focused one bit because of the hole-in-one that just happened.”

“I didn’t want to keep the card or frame it, because that was one of the worst rounds I had all week out here.”

Afterwards, Hamlin treated golfers in the clubhouse to drinks in true hole-in-one tradition. On Friday, he was hoping the ace was a good omen for Sunday’s TicketGuardian 500 at ISM Raceway.

“That’s the plan,” Hamlin said. It’s hard to believe you can have a bad weekend after starting it off like that.”

Hamlin has a formidable record at Phoenix, with an average starting position of 11.0 and an average finish of 11.6. His only victory at the one-mile track in the Sonoran Desert came in 2012, but he has posted 11 top-fives and 15 top-10s in 27 starts.

“We’ve had good success here,” Hamlin said. “We won here in ’12. We continually run here pretty well. Definitely had a winning car just a few races ago here at this race track.

“Certainly, it’s a track I’ve got a good feel for, knowing what I need. It’s just a matter of knowing whether you can get it all done in such a short amount of time during practices.”

Where To Start At Phoenix? Bell, Allgaier Have Strong Opinions

With the NASCAR Xfinity Series coming to ISM Raceway for the second time, it’s a given that starting or restarting in what used to be turn 2 can be problematic.

But starting on the front row isn’t so great either, says series leader Christopher Bell, who feels like a sitting duck in the first or second position.

“As soon as you cross that start/finish line, you have a football-field-and-a-half of room,” Bell said on Friday before opening practice for Saturday’s IK9 Service Dog 200. “You just can’t block all that room, so if they have momentum on you, it’s really easy for them to get side-by-side with you and make a move on you.

“But that’s what the fans love — that’s for sure.”

So, if not the back or the front, what does Bell consider the optimum starting position?

“Being third is probably the most ideal location,” Bell said, “because you’re on the inside, you can use the dogleg … I think third is a pretty good spot to be on the race track here.”

Justin Allgaier saw both ends of the equation last fall, in the first Xfinity race with the track “flipped.” What used to be the backstretch, complete with a wide dogleg where drivers can gain ground below the apron, is now the frontstretch.

“That was the interesting part for me,” Allgaier said. “Last year, we were fortunate enough to run really good in the stages and be up front, and then we had a restart where we weren’t up front, and it was completely different.

“From my standpoint, that’s kind of the hardest part to wrap your head around. I know that in the sport, you’re not always going to be roses. You’re going to have some times where you’re going to have to start maybe toward the back of the field. I think that being on the curve the way you are here makes it even more challenging.”

Stage racing adds a premium to qualifying and running up front at a speedway where track position is critically important.

“Because of stage racing, particularly at a place like ISM Raceway, I think qualifying has been at a premium regardless,” Allgaier said. “But I say that, and Christopher Bell didn’t qualify well last fall and still came on to win the race.

“I think you can manage it, but on the flip side — particularly for stage points — it’s still beneficial to put yourself in position to qualify well and just have the easier time and not put yourself in those danger positions as often.”

WDUN will carry live MRN radio coverage of all the action from ISM Raceway this weekend on WDUN.  It starts with Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series IK9 Service Dog 200 beginning at 3:30 on 102.9 FM and streaming live on AccessWDUN.  On Sunday, it’s the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Ticket Guardian 500 beginning at 2:30 on WDUN 102.9 FM, AM 550 or streaming live on AccessWDUN.

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