Delivering On His Promise: Denny Hamlin Looking Like The Man To Beat
Perhaps Denny Hamlin is truly a prophet in disguise, making good on his word about being the man to beat in 2010 for the Sprint Cup title.
Or just plain lucky.
Whatever the reason, the driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota is looking more and more like the guy who may dethrone Jimmie Johnson from his seat as the "king" of NASCAR, especially after taking the checkers in Sunday's Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
The win, which is Hamlin's fifth of the season, spells more bad news for the rest of the competition:
- Hamlin cut his margin from points leader Kevin Harvick tremendously, now trailing first place by 47 markers from 136.
- Sunday's victory gives the No. 11 team an additional 10 point bonus, which leads the Chase contenders in playoff seeding with 50 pivotal points.
- It was Hamlin's seventh top-10 (same amount of top-fives), averaging a seventh-place finish in the past five races.
Considering the facts and statistics, it's scary to think what the No. 11 team, led by crew chief Mike Ford, is capable of doing in the Chase, especially if they can keep their hot streak going.
It wasn't just a typical "right place at the right time" victory, which are sometimes the ways in which racers triumph on the circuit. From a late race pit gamble to those infamous green-white-checkered shootout restarts, the winner in any given race is sometimes the one who just lucked out.
Not in the case of Denny Hamlin, who's making a statement in the stock car scene as a tour de force and man on a mission. Basically put, when he runs in the top-five late in the going, chances are, he'll most likely get his Toyota Camry into Victory Lane, taking in all the accolades, glory, and bonus points.
Quite the change from the Hamlin of the past, who felt like he was expected to win at certain tracks going into a season.
"It seems like I used to go into every season thinking, 'We ought to get a couple of wins, Martinsville (and) Pocono,'" Hamlin said following his victory per AP sportswriter Will Graves' article. "Now it's just show up and, hey, we can win."
Those are dangerous words from a man who some felt was due for a breakout season, as he exceeded his rookie expectations in 2006 with a freshman campaign worthy of a seasoned veteran gunning for a title.
Instead of heading to the tracks in wonder and curiosity, Hamlin attacked each race wondering how he could get the most out of his performance on Sundays. Sweeping Pocono and taking the win in the fall Martinsville race in his rookie campaign, the Chesterfield, Va. native proved his worth and lived up to his label as "the next best thing" by Kevin Harvick.
After a few years of frustration, from internal troubles with his pit crew to cars that were lacking in horsepower and handling, this season has dealt a different hand to the No. 11 team, who flat out have that killer instinct attitude to win it all.
Sunday's victory was a dominant showing by the 29-year-old, who led for 123 of the 200 laps in the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400. Having won five of the past ten races on the tour, one has to wonder: is this how good they'll be in the Chase?
Michigan's just the latest track added to Hamlin's building victory resume, having won at Martinsville, Texas, Darlington, and Pocono. He didn't just luck into those wins, but rather, he followed the Richard Petty rule to victories which states in the following:
"The best thing you can do on any given day is put yourself in a position to win, and let circumstances dictate the outcome."
While it may be something of a long shot for Hamlin to win next Sunday at Infineon Raceway, with the way his season has gone, road courses may not be such an impossible circuit for "Speedy Delivery" to conquer.
Sure, he won't be atop most fantasy race owners' lists for their picks for the winner's circle, as the usual names like Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, and Juan Pablo Montoya will dominate such selections.
Each of those racers have visited Victory Lane at the series' two stops that require left and right hand turning skills, with Gordon and Stewart affirming themselves "King of the Road."
There'll also be the occasional road course ringers who'll gain their three hours of fame, like series regular Marcos Ambrose and Mattias Ekstrom of Sweden who'll try to upset the balance of Cup racing's elite circle.
With another Sunday race wrapped up and the talk of dominance being attributed to the perennial running Joe Gibbs Racing team, all eyes will be on the No. 11 team, whose performances lately have made their slow start to 2010 nearly forgettable.
That may just be the way they'll attack the stretch to the postseason, which might mean another thing that fans have long pondered: the end of Jimmie Johnson's title run.