Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Denny Hamlin Looking For His Best Career Finish in Sunday's Daytona 500

Hamlin's best effort in the Daytona 500 has been 17th twice
When the green flag drops for the 53rd Daytona 500 on Sunday afternoon, it will have been 92 days since the 2010 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Three months for Denny Hamlin and the #11 FedEx Racing team to reflect on its eight-win season, learn from its near-championship year, and shift its focus to 2011 as a unit primed to make another title charge. It all starts with the ‘Great American Race.’

This year, Hamlin is making his sixth Daytona 500 start in the #11 FedEx Express Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing. Hamlin matched his career-best 500 finish with a 17th-place result in 2010, equaling his run from 2008. He started 25th and led one lap in last year’s event that saw more than two hours in delays to fix a pothole in the track and three attempts at a ‘green-white-checkered’ finish before declaring Jamie McMurray the winner.

Daytona’s 2.5-mile high banks have been repaved and the new two-car drafting style has made this year’s event more unpredictable than ever before. Hamlin learned the tricks of the trade in last Saturday’s Budweiser Shootout, crossing the finish line first in the pre-season, exhibition event. However, the decisive pass coming to the checkered flag was made below the yellow ‘out of bounds’ line, drawing a black flag penalty and 12th-place result.

The #11 FedEx Racing team does not have the results to show for how well they’ve raced in their previous five Daytona 500 starts. Hamlin was caught up in an incident in 2009’s rain-shortened event, and led 32 laps in 2008 as one of the field’s strongest cars before contact on pit road disrupted the handling of the #11 Camry. Hamlin ran as high as second in 2007, but was collected in a wild, last-lap wreck to finish 28th, and also fell victim to one of Daytona’s multi-car incidents during his rookie year in 2006, finishing 30th.


What do you think your chances are of winning the Daytona 500?
“This hasn’t been our most successful race when you look at our past finishes, but I think we are capable of winning here. We’ve had some bad luck in the past and made a few mistakes, but I feel more comfortable each time we come here and run at a superspeedway. We had a good car in the Shootout and I learned a lot about the new drafting style, so it will be interesting to see the race with 43 guys out there. It’s going to be wild, for sure. As long as you can stay out of trouble and be around at the end, I think everyone has a shot to win this thing.

Hamlin hasn't had the best luck at Daytona
Are you optimistic heading into 2011 and why?
“I am. One is coming off a career year. For me, since my rookie season and going into 2007, I’ve never taken a step back. It’s always been, we had a great 2006 rookie season and had a chance to win a championship. In 2007, the driver just tried to make up too much, and then since then these last four years we have steadily marched — more wins, higher in the points every single year and obviously there’s only one more place to go. I don’t consider myself stepping back at all and obviously anything less than what we did last year is going to be considered by me a failure in the sense of that I took a step back. I didn’t accomplish what I did before. Given, there are a lot of variables. Whether your cars are as good, pit crew is as good and things like that. We’ve never taken a step back with our FedEx team and that’s something I’m proud of.”

How will you approach the first part of the season with the new NASCAR points system?
“I think you’re going to race it very, very similar, but I think once you get two wins in the first 26 races, I think you’re going to feel pretty comfortable. You’re going to be in the Chase if not as a wild card. So, you can go for a lot more wins from that point forward, but you’ve got to be inside the top-10 for those bonus points to count. It’s a little bit different game, but I think it’s mostly going to be about consistency in the Chase. I love what they’re doing, having those race winners be a part of the Chase, but honestly if you’re not consistent enough in the 26 races and you’re 18th in points and you’ve won a couple races, you’re probably not going to go on a run the final 10. But, it makes it more interesting and gets those guys involved in the Chase.”

What did you think and where were you when you found out Dale Earnhardt passed away?
“I didn’t believe it personally. I remember watching the race obviously and seeing it and it’s just like everyone else thought, it didn’t look too bad. Then next thing you know you get a phone call and someone says they heard something and next thing you know you log onto the internet and there’s rumors here and there on whether he has or hasn’t passed. Then the next thing that you know it becomes reality when you see his face on TV. I remember that for me as a race fan that was probably the first time I’ve ever cried because of something else outside of my life that has actually happened. It was a big event. Trust me, I’ll say it right here, I wasn’t the biggest Dale Earnhardt fan. I was a big Bill Elliott fan and he was the alpha. But still, everyone had a respect for him and obviously he touched a lot of people even though he might not have been your favorite.”

- Hamlin Press Release

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