[media-credit name=”Ed Coombs” align=”alignright” width=”231″][/media-credit]After finishing ninth in points last year and struggling at some points, Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) team knew they needed to make a change.
As soon as they learned that 2011 Sprint Cup Series Champion Tony Stewart had fired crew chief Darian Grubb, JGR jumped at the chance to hire him. The result is Hamlin doing better this year as he is excited to go to the track each week.
“I’m constantly now going to the track excited about our outlook and instead of counting down the weeks until it’s all over,” he said last weekend. “Obviously, last year not being competitive for most of the year until the very end when we ran some top-10s and top-fives, but it was just kind of go through the motions. Right now, you’re more optimistic about what you’ve got in front of you.”
So far this season, Hamlin finished fourth at Daytona, won Phoenix and finished 20th last weekend at Las Vegas. This weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway will mark the first short track race of the 2012 season as the Sprint Cup schedule continues. In 12 starts at Bristol, Hamlin has three top fives and six top 10s.
“Coming so close before has really only made us want to win one of these Bristol races more than ever,” he said in the team preview. “There is no doubt that winning at Bristol would be special and I know I speak for the entire team when I say leaving here with a trophy is something everyone in racing wants to accomplish in their career. We’ve felt like we’ve had the car on a couple of occasions but had some bad luck in terms of parts going bad at the worst possible times.”
After Bristol, teams head back out west for the 1.5 mile oval in California. Hamlin says he wishes it was organized differently.
“You kind of wish they had all these three west coast races all in a row,” he said. “Obviously going back to Bristol is a total different mind set then what we’re running this week and then back to a total different mindset when you go to California. I like California, I think the track is aging really well. It’s getting to where that track you can run all over from the bottom to the very top. It takes 10 years to get a surface to do that.”
He added that with most tracks being repaved, it takes away from the racing as he likes the older surfaces better to run on.
Hamlin started racing at a young age, winning his first go-kart race at the age of seven. From there, he moved up the ranks before moving into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2005.
“It’s been such a ride getting to the spot where I am now,” he said. “Sometimes you forget the peaks and the valleys that you go through to get to the point in which you are right now.”
Hamlin added that he remembers working back at Subway 15 years ago.
“It’s amazing to me when you look back at it and thinking I was making $4.75 an hour and I was happy,” he continued. “All I did was spend all my money on the truck I had and that’s all I cared about.”