HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Heading into Homestead-Miami Speedway during the 2010 season Denny Hamlin was the talk of the NASCAR world. The No. 11 FedEx Express driver had amassed a career-high eight wins and was the heralded favorite to unseat a dominant Jimmie Johnson. However, the weekend turned disastrous as the Joe Gibbs Racing driver was left with a 14th place finish, and left thinking of what could have been.
Fast-forward to 2014, Hamlin isn’t having statistically his best season, though it could be the most rewarding. The soon-to-be 34 year-old (on November 18th) missed the race in Fontana, but still managed to clinch a Chase berth by virtue of winning at Talladega Superspeedway just five races later. Since then he hasn’t dazzled anyone with dominance, surviving round after round by advancing on points.
Hamlin referenced the night before the big race four years ago, “I didn’t do anything that night, didn’t want anyone coming in – just wanted to focus on what I needed to do, but that wasn’t what got me to that point. It was being myself and having my friends and family around – playing cards before driver intros, whatever it took to loosen me up. That’s what I did for 35 races and I changed that for once race and it won’t be the case this time around.”
The plan is much the same as it was in 2010, just win. That won’t be an easy task with a fast former teammate in Joey Logano absolutely surging at 1.5-mile ovals, like Homestead-Miami Speedway. Logano and Hamlin quickly formed a rivalry after he left for Team Penske. Last season at Bristol Motor Speedway a post-race shoving match carried over to the final laps in Fontana, the two made contact and Hamlin was sent in the wall. The Virginia native was left with a compression fracture in his spine and would miss the next several races, ending his championship aspirations.
He still has to go through a tough-as-nails Kevin Harvick, as well as “Rocket Man” Ryan Newman. The task is tall, but could be a fitting end with Hamlin raising the championship trophy after surpassing so many obstacles.
Image: USA Today Sports