CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Nearly 50 drivers will compete in one of the biggest celebrity late model races of the year Thursday night in the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown.
The event, which raises funds for the Denny Hamlin Foundation to support cystic fibrosis research and therapies, has in the past been held at Richmond International Raceway and at Southside Speedway near Hamlin's hometown of Chesterfield, Va. This year it was moved to South Boston (Va.) Speedway, a track that helped launch Hamlin's career. He's not raced there since 2003.
"Moving the race to South Boston Speedway makes it a new challenge for the drivers and brings back a bit of NASCAR nostalgia for the fans and media," said Hamlin. "Based on the interest and feedback I've heard, I expect the all-star lineup to be better than any we've had in our six-year history of the event."
Open since 1957, South Boston Speedway has earned a reputation as the home of the best NASCAR-sanctioned short track racing in the country. The 2/5-mile, quad-oval has been the stomping ground for many of NASCAR's top racers.
South Boston last hosted a national touring NASCAR race in 2003 when the Truck Series visited for a final time. The Nationwide Series regularly ran there until 2000, while the last NASCAR premier series race, now known as the Sprint Cup Series, was held in 1971.
Today, the track known as SoBo, hosts NASCAR Whelen All-American Weekly Series events plus several touring and special events, including the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour. Spectator capacity is 10,000.
"We at South Boston Speedway are honored to be the 2014 host of the Denny Hamlin charity race," said Cathy Rice, general manager of South Boston. "We are truly honored to be able to support the Denny Hamlin Foundation and the great work they do."
Drivers who have been announced to race are Hamlin's Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Elliott Sadler and Drew Herring. Hermie Sadler will race, along with Truck Series drivers Timothy Peters and Jeb Burton.
<h3>Your name here</h3>
Fans will have an opportunity to have their names displayed on Denny Hamlin's No. 11 FedEx Toyota during the June 1 race at Dover.
The campaign is a one-of-a-kind fundraiser for the autism community. For a minimum donation of $11 to Autism Speaks, fans' first names and last initials can be inscribed on a puzzle piece design featured on the No. 11 car during the "FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks" at Dover.
"It's a great opportunity for the fans and is for a great cause," said Hamlin. "Autism affects so many people, and these donations will help with research and other important things that the Autism Speaks organization does."
Fans can visit <a href="www.fedexracing.com/fedex400" target="_blank">www.fedexracing.com/fedex400 </a>through May 4 for information.
<h3>Suarez to make Nationwide debut at Richmond</h3>
Daniel Suarez has proven to be a quick learner in a race car, winning in the eighth race of last year's NASCAR's K&N Pro Series East Tour and finishing third in the final standings.
He has raced out of the gates this season, with two wins and three top-five finishes in four starts. Now Suarez has parlayed that into a big-time ride.
He will get his first career Nationwide Series start on Friday night at Richmond International Raceway with Joe Gibbs Racing, and Suarez will have to learn on the job.
"It's going to be a new experience for me - I've never been in a Nationwide car," Suarez said. "But to be honest, I have a lot of confidence in myself and also in Joe Gibbs Racing. The first point and the most important point is to try to learn about everything and then be competitive. I love to be competitive in everything I drive, even video games."
A 22-year-old from Monterrey, Mexico, Suarez came through the NASCAR Next program and is a current participant in Drive 4 Diversity. For now, he's got just this one race with JGR. But he's confident a good showing Friday night at Richmond could lead to more opportunities.
"For now I'm just focused to do well in this race," Suarez said. "I'm pretty sure that after that race we are going to have something good for the second half of the year."
It will be a busy weekend for Suarez, who races full-time in both the East Series and the NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series.
Suarez will run a doubleheader on Friday night at Richmond, where the K&N East race is scheduled after the Nationwide event. Then it's back to Charlotte to catch a flight a Saturday flight to Mexico City to race at the Autodrome on Sunday.
"Is no easy challenge for me, this weekend. I really feel lucky to be in this position," Suarez said. "Not many drivers have the opportunity to do one race or two races or three races like me this weekend, in the same weekend. That's kind of cool for me. I think we can learn a lot about this situation. I think that's a pretty cool opportunity. I'm really looking forward to do something good this weekend."
JR Motorsports has added another young driver to its stable in 20-year-old Austin Theriault.
Theriault has been hired to drive three Nationwide Series for JRM in the No. 5 Chevrolet. He'll make his debut next month at Iowa Speedway, and also has races scheduled at New Hampshire in July and Kentucky in September.
"Our company is known for putting young talent in cars and giving them a shot on one of NASCAR's biggest stages, and that is what we are giving Austin with this three-race opportunity," said Kelley Earnhardt Miller, general manager of JR Motorsports. "This keeps our No. 5 car on the track, and it gives Austin the chance to show what he's got with a lot more eyeballs taking notice."
JRM goes into Friday night's race at Richmond International Raceway coming off back-to-back victories with Chase Elliott. The 18-year-old won at Texas and Darlington before last weekend's off week.
Theriault was the 2012 Maine Vintage Race Car Association's Driver of the Year. He made his NASCAR K&N Pro Series debut in 2012 after winning the "Maine Young Guns."