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Toyota seeking more horsepower in NASCAR engines before Chase begins

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Denny Hamlin was clearly frustrated a week ago at Michigan, when some jockeying for position led to a confrontation with Dale Earnhardt Jr. after the race.

His Toyota engine is at the root of Hamlin's displeasure and the manufacturer doesn't disagree. Hamlin said after Sunday's race that he's doing everything he can to keep up with the Hendrick Motorsports engines.

"We need to be better," said David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development. "The folks over at the Hendrick shop have done a great job this year, and they've got an edge, not just on us but the others as well."

At this time a year ago, Toyota was headed to Bristol Motor Speedway with nine Sprint Cup wins. The manufacturer picked up another two with consecutive victories at Bristol and Atlanta. This year, Toyota has just two Cup wins with Saturday night's race coming up at Bristol.

"For whatever reason, we got off to a bad start this year," said team owner Joe Gibbs, has Toyota's only two victories this year. "We're trying to close hard and trying to put ourselves in a good position. We've got some good updates coming in the motor, and so hopefully we get hot at the right time. We've been behind."

Wilson doesn't know how far Toyota is behind in horsepower; manufacturers know their own engines, but not the details of their rivals' engines. Wilson said he doesn't think it's as bad as Hamlin portrayed.

"We're not down 50 horsepower, I guarantee you that," Wilson said. "But we also recognize we need to be better and have been very, very candid and open that we're continuing to work to make sure when we get to the Chase, we're more competitive."

Both Hamlin and Kyle Busch have wins this season and will make the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Matt Kenseth, who had a series-high seven victories a year ago, is winless but should make the Chase on points. Michael Waltrip Racing driver Clint Bowyer is also winless and on the bubble of making the Chase.

"As an engine builder, we always say, 'You're never good enough,'" Wilson said. "Find me a driver that's ever happy with their engine performance, and you're going to find a not very good driver."

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NASCAR TEST: NASCAR hopes to have the 2015 rules package ready by next month so teams can begin working on next year's cars.

Gene Stefanyshyn, NASCAR's vice-president of innovation and racing development, said a Monday test at Michigan International Speedway emphasized rules for intermediate tracks with no plans for a second test.

NASCAR had teams first test a rear differential gear change followed by different aerodynamics packages. NASCAR used aerodynamic plates called dive planes under the front bumper to help balance the car with a bigger, 9-inch spoiler.

NASCAR also attempted to a package that let drivers adjust the track bar inside the car themselves.

"The aero package will knock a bit of a speed off the end of the straightaway because we have a bit more drag on the car," Stefanyshyn said. "I think taking some speed off is the direction we're headed. The amount, we will wait to see what the information shows us."

NASCAR tested at three different power levels, 850 horsepower, 800 horsepower and 750 horsepower.

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HORNISH-NBC SPORTS: Sam Hornish Jr. will be back with IndyCar this weekend as a guest analyst for NBC Sports Network's coverage of Sunday's race at Sonoma.

Hornish will join analyst Paul Tracy and play-by-play announcer Brian Till in the booth. Hornish and Tracy have a combined 50 wins in open wheel racing.

Hornish, who is currently running a part-time Nationwide Series schedule for Joe Gibbs Racing, is a three-time IndyCar champion. His 2006 championship was the last for Team Penske, which heads into Sonoma in command of the title race. Will Power and Helio Castroneves, both Penske drivers, are ranked first and second in the IndyCar standings with two races remaining. Juan Pablo Montoya is fifth in points.

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ARCA-MADISON: The ARCA Racing Series may have its best entry list of the season this weekend in Madison, Wisconsin, where three teenagers have added their names to the event at Madison International Speedway.

NASCAR K&N Series East point leader Ben Rhodes has entered Sunday's event. The 17-year-old is a five-time winner already this season.

The race will also mark the return of Truck Series driver Brandon Jones, who has won both of his ARCA starts this year. The 17-year-old won at Winchester Speedway and Lucas Oil Raceway. Kyle Benjamin is the defending race winner and is returning to Madison after missing the last several ARCA races. The 16-year-old became the youngest winner in series history with his Madison victory last season.

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