Hinchcliffe ‘not in a rush’ to figure out future

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Now he’s back at Charlotte Motor Speedway for Saturday night’s race in what will be his 500th career Sprint Cup Series start. Only 33 drivers have made 500 starts.

Fittingly for Earnhardt it comes at Charlotte, where he made his Cup debut in the 1999 Coca-Cola 600 in a car fielded by his late father. The then-24-year-old started eighth and finished 16th.

Earnhardt’s first pole at Charlotte came in 2000. He’ll be looking for another one in Thursday night’s qualifying, which is also his 39th birthday.

Although he won the 2000 All-Star race at Charlotte, Earnhardt has never won a points race at the track. Should he win Saturday night, he’d join Richard Petty and Matt Kenseth as drivers to win in their 500th start.

Last year, when he sat out the October race with a concussion, it was the first time since Sept. 3, 1979, that an Earnhardt was not in the field. Earnhardt’s father, seven-time NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt, was killed on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.

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SPEEDWAY BENEFITS: Motorsports consultant Humpy Wheeler has formed a short track alliance designed to unite the 1,2000 grassroots tracks so they can have buying power to receive high-volume discount from vendors.

The alliance, called Speedway Benefits, represents more than $200 million in buying power, said Wheeler, the former promoter at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Speedway Benefits is a marketing alliance that is free to join.

“We are going to stick strictly to these grassroots tracks and not the big tracks of NASCAR, Indy and NHRA. This collectivism of all the short tracks will change the face of racing,” Wheeler said. “Short track racing, including ovals, drag strips and road courses, are the backbone of our sport and yet they have been shorted on television, advertising and media coverage. It is our intention to help fire the rockets to change this. There is more excitement in racing at such tracks as Carolina Speedway, Lebanon Valley, Skagit, Bowman Gray, Eldora and Thunder Road in Vermont than most superspeedways.”

Speedway Benefits is expected to grow to 50 employees and create 1,000 new jobs across the country, Wheeler said.

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DEMPSEY CHALLENGE: Justin Wilson is packing his bike up and headed north to join Patrick Dempsey in raising money for the fight against cancer.

The IndyCar driver will participate in the Dempsey Challenge presented by Amgen to raise funds for the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing in Lewiston, Maine, this weekend.

Wilson, who carried a Dempsey Challenge decal on his Dale Coyne Racing entry in the Baltimore Grand Prix, is an avid cyclist and rides as part of his training regimen. All funds raised in the Dempsey Challenge will go directly to the Dempsey Center, which allows the organization to provide free support, education and integrative medicine services to anyone impacted by cancer.

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