NASCAR At Richmond International Raceway: 2012 Weekend Preview

RICHMOND, VA - SEPTEMBER 10: A general view of the track following the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Wonderful Pistachios 400 at Richmond International Raceway on September 10, 2011 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Denny Hamlin's fond memories of his Richmond International Raceway predate his racing career, when once he was just a young fan in the stands. But Hamlin's reminiscing in recent years has been about stellar performances on one of his best tracks.

Whether the reason is nostalgia or more recent history, Hamlin is happy to see Richmond on the schedule for Saturday night's Capital City 400 Presented By Virginia Is For Lovers (7 p.m. ET, FOX).

The .75-mile track is a ripe setting for Hamlin to build upon an already strong start to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. The Chesterfield, Va., native -- a two-time Richmond winner in both Sprint Cup and Nationwide competition -- already has two victories in eight races this year, including last week's run to the checkers at Kansas Speedway.

Hamlin is also hosting Thursday's fifth annual Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown, a charity late model event benefitting the driver's foundation.

"I love going to Richmond, anyway, but any time you can go after winning the previous week, it makes it a little more exciting," Hamlin said. "I'm excited about it. It's a big weekend for us."

Part of the reason for Hamlin's early 2012 momentum has been his budding chemistry with crew chief Darien Grubb, another Virginia native with deep-running ties to Richmond. Grubb's offseason move to the Joe Gibbs Racing operation has already paid dividends, with Hamlin currently fifth in Sprint Cup points and firmly in Chase contention.

"It's a close-to-home place," said Grubb, a Virginia Tech graduate born in Floyd, Va. "I've got a lot of friends and family that go up there. I may go out and have a cookout with them Friday or Saturday before the race. It's actually been pretty cool."

Hamlin trails in the standings by 23 points to leader Greg Biffle, the Texas Motor Speedway winner who has lead the Sprint Cup Series since the third race of the season, at Las Vegas.

PASTRANA POISED FOR NASCAR DEBUT

When Travis Pastrana suits up for his first foray into the NASCAR Nationwide Series, he'll do so with a haircut arguably more suited for the hockey playoffs than the racetrack.

The action sports star, sporting a glorious mullet, will make a much-anticipated Nationwide debut Friday night at Richmond International Raceway in the Virginia 529 College Savings 250 (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2), the seventh race of the season.

Pastrana, who has made a name for himself on two wheels and four, has already had some seasoning in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, which he called a "humbling" experience.

"I've gotten my butt kicked by literally 15-, 17-, 18-year-old kids on a weekly basis, so there's definitely a lot of young talent coming up," Pastrana said. "I'm super excited to learn the ropes."

The haircut came courtesy of a professional, but not exactly a professional stylist. Pastrana has five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson to thank for the new look.

"He has a rocking mullet that I was able to carve out of his head with some metal cutting shears," Johnson said. "He is all committed, fully in. On a more serious note, it's just seat time. The guy knows how to race. He knows how to ride and drive whatever the heck it is. It's just seat time."

A pair of two-time Nationwide winners continue to run 1-2 in the series standings, with Elliott Sadler just four points ahead of defending series champ Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

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