RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Denny Hamlin is excited about his annual charity race becoming bigger than ever this year, even if he doesn't like the reason that he had to find a new venue for it.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup star will host his Short Track Showdown at Richmond International Raceway for the first time Thursday night, moving from Southside Speedway after three years because the track in suburban Richmond where he cut his teeth in Late Model racing closed down.
``Obviously the roots of the Short Track Showdown are at Southside Speedway and always will be, but we outgrew it,'' he said after he tested Late Model Stock cars at RIR last week.
Several thousand fans filled the small track in 2010, where a modestly priced ticket allowed them to see Hamlin and fellow NASCAR stars Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and others battle local Late Model drivers in a 250-lap event that raised more than $100,000, Hamlin said.
The money raised goes to the Denny Hamlin Foundation, which supports Children's Hospital in Richmond, St. Jude Children's Hospital, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and other charities.
Besides moving from the local track to one with more than 100,000 seats, Hamlin's race also will be televised on SPEED on Thursday night, expanding its potential reach exponentially.
That, to Hamlin, is the best news because ``the foundations and the charities that we support don't always get a whole lot of recognition, other than the big events that we put on,'' he said, noting that Jeff Gordon has a bowling tournament and several drivers host golf tournaments.
Doug Fritz, the president of RIR, said it took only a few weeks after Hamlin's foundation asked to hold the event at the track to rework schedules and make it happen. The 75-lap race will be run after a NASCAR K&N Pro Series East event that had already been scheduled.
``It is an exciting day for us,'' Fritz said, noting it will be the first time the track hosts a weekend of racing on three days since the Truck Series stopped coming several years ago.
``We feel we can make it work here. We feel we can grow it here,'' Fritz said. ``If Denny wants to keep it here, the opportunity for growth is tremendous from a grandstand perspective.''
Hamlin considers raising money by racing Late Models a ``win-win.''
``It's what I grew up wanting to do. I always said if I was just a great late model stock car racer, I'd be happy. If I was just a local short track hero, I was going to be happy,'' he said.
``Of course, now I'm hoping for much bigger things,'' he added.
Those bigger things included a greater windfall from Thursday night's race.
Sprint Cup regulars planning to run in Hamlin's race this year include Stewart, who hosts - and usually wins - his own race at Eldora Speedway, the dirt track he owns in Ohio; Busch; Joey Logano; Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne and racer-turned-broadcaster Hermie Sadler.
Sadler, who along with brother Elliott runs a foundation dedicated to raising money for research into autism, promoting awareness of the disease and supporting initiatives that will lead to better educational opportunities for children with autism, looks forward to helping.
``We don't have a lot of time to do everything we'd like to do, but when you can take a little bit of your time and help a fellow competitor, but more importantly, help draw attention to his foundation or charity of choice, it makes you feel good,'' he said after the test.
It's that kind of spirit among drivers that made Fritz eager to make it happen at RIR.
``They are strongly committed to the communities, particularly those they grew up in, and very loyal and they've got great hearts,'' he said. ``They get pulled in a lot of ways on race week and off days and off weekends, and it's amazing what they still continue to do. It's phenomenal.''
For Hamlin, one thing could help make it a perfect night: finally winning his race. He dominated most of the way last year, but faltered in the final laps and wound up fourth.
The desire to win kept him at RIR most of last Wednesday, making laps.
``I look forward to it,'' he said, ``and can't wait to see what happens.''

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