NASCAR: Hamlin not averse to sharing spotlight
By Jenna Fryer
Associated PressCHARLOTTE ó Denny Hamlin is so hungry for a victory that, given the chance at Bristol Motor Speedway, he most certainly would have moved teammate Kyle Busch out of his way.
“For sure,” Hamlin said. “He’s won too much.”
He wasn’t kidding, either.
Alas, he never had the opportunity to use Bristol’s legendary “bump-and-run” on Busch because Hamlin couldn’t get close enough to catch his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate. He had to settle for a second-place finish Sunday that stretched his winless streak to a frustrating 35 races.
So Busch left Bristol with his second win in three races and 10th overall since joining Joe Gibbs Racing last season. Hamlin, meanwhile, has won just once over the same span.
“Those guys are solid,” Hamlin said. “They qualify well and, as a result, get a good pit stall. Their pit crew is always consistent, and they work really hard at it. And on the short runs, Kyle has a way of taking off really, really good. He’s got that car. He’s got that raw speed that I just don’t have for 20 laps. And it pays big dividends to that race team.
“Luckily, we’re in the same stable, so we know everything he has. If there’s anything we need to work on, it’s me.”
That admission is proof of just how far Hamlin has come after three full seasons with JGR. In the past, the problem would have been anyone’s fault but Hamlin’s and he would have publicly placed the blame on his team.
But Hamlin came into this season determined to do things differently. Tired of being known as a driver with a ton of potential, Hamlin wants to finally start living up to his lofty expectations.
Although he’s got four career victories, 61 top-10 finishes and a coveted spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship in all three of his seasons, he’s yet to consistently contend for the title. He was a career-best third in the final 2006 standings but dropped off to 12th and eighth the next two seasons.
He spoke often during the offseason about his desire to become a champion. His awakening coincided with two-time champion Tony Stewart’s departure from JGR, leaving the organization in need of a team leader.
Team owner Joe Gibbs has noticed the shift in attitude, the renewed commitment to his race team and the better communication with crew chief Mike Ford.
“Denny did really set his jaw,” Gibbs said. “He’s been on it. He’s been after it hard. As much as anything, it’s your attitude. We talked quite a bit before the year. I think he spent a lot of time with Mike. I think you can tell the way he reacts when something does happen to the race team, he’s very strong about it.
“They’re not going to leave anything unturned around our place to try and keep from getting everything we can for the 11 car.”