Denny Hamlin is a big stick and ball sport fan. So, to say that he’s a student of the game in NASCAR, would resonate well within the Virginia native. For Hamlin, he went from a struggling superspeedway racer to arguably the best in the NASCAR Cup Series today.
Back in February, Hamlin became just the sixth driver in the history of the sport to win the Daytona 500 three or more times. What’s even more impressive is, all three wins have come in the last five years. Counter that with his best finish in his first six Daytona 500 tries being 17th and you get a complete turn around from the start of his career to now.
“I don’t know what it is, but I think I started studying more about superspeedway racing around that time because I had been so unsuccessful for a very long time,” Hamlin said a week after his Daytona win. “We went a long time and I’ve won a lot of the Clashes and Duel races. It just seems like it’s that seven or eight years ago that the car came around and whatever techniques I use or I’ve adapted to this car have seemed to work.”
Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate of Kyle Busch may have two championships compared to Hamlin’s none, but Busch is envious of Hamlin’s three Harley J. Earl trophies in his collection.
“Denny has really gotten way better ever since this car,” Busch said of Hamlin’s superspeedway abilities in the Gen 6 car, the current model. “He was always an aggressive plate racer, one that would make moves that you’re kind of, ‘Man, if he would just stay in line, I think this would turn out better.’
“He still does that today, but he’s making it work for himself, that not staying in line is better for Denny. I think since this car came though, he’s been a real good plate racer.
“He’s been fantastic at the game, he’s understood it, he’s made moves that I sometimes wouldn’t make that have worked, he’s able to pass a guy to get in line. … He’s very knowledgeable and skillful In making his moves and passes.”
Hamlin, is now searching for his second win at Talladega and seventh on the year. His last came in the spring race of 2014. But, it’s not like Hamlin has been off on the 2.66-mile superspeedway either.
He finished fourth in the spring race this past June. He was third in the playoff race last year. He has four straight top six finishes in this very playoff race and three finishes on superspeedway’s in 2020 were – 1st, 4th and 3rd respectively.
Without a lot of drafting help available from the lower car count by Toyota’s in comparison to the other two makes on Sunday, Hamlin knows that he just needs to survive the first 160 laps and put himself in position where people have to work with him in the end.
He’s proven he can do that. He’s not had the best of playoffs so far with two problems with pit road (coming to pit road at Darlington, penalty at Richmond) in the first two races of the postseason, but the speed is still there. What better way to not have to worry about the ROVAL than to win on Sunday in Talladega.
“It’s just really unfortunate circumstances that are keeping us out of Victory Lane,” said Hamlin. “I’m really happy with the way we’re running, though, and feel confident going into Talladega this weekend.”
He was third last weekend and can be conservative if he wants now.
“We need to maintain focus and let the rest take care of itself,” said Hamlin. “Talladega is known as the biggest and the fastest course in the circuit. We’ve had success in previous races there and just need to build off of the momentum we gained in Las Vegas.”