|Credit: Debbie Ross/Skirts and Scuffs|
Most recently Hamlin has become known as the driver who cannot get it – winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship – done.
But Hamlin’s Cup career had a stellar beginning and still holds immense promise.
Hamlin started accruing statistics in Cup in 2005 with Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) in the No.11 FedEx Chevrolet. He ran a partial schedule, just seven out of 36, and finished 41st.
The very next year Hamlin tore up the series. As a candidate for Rookie of the Year Hamlin won the Budweiser Shootout to start the season, something no other ROTY candidate had ever done. Later in the season Hamlin went on to sweep both races at Pocono from the pole, only the second rookie to sweep at one track. Jimmie Johnson was the other who accomplished this in his rookie year, doing so at Dover International Speedway.
During that auspicious year, Hamlin won Rookie of the Year Honors, raced his way into the Chase easily, finished third for the season, the highest of any Rookie in history, and showed NASCAR he was a true contender.
In 2007 Hamlin had a decent season but finished the year in 12th with one win. He was still in the championship hunt for the years 2008-2009 with rankings of eighth and fifth respectively. Hamlin added one win in 2008 and four in 2009, but he was still not vying for the Cup.
That changed in 2010. Hamlin was determined to win the Cup. He earned eight wins that season – including Martinsville, Texas, Darlington, Pocono, Michigan, and Richmond in the regular season and again at Martinsville and Texas during the Chase. However, he was unable to capitalize on his enormous momentum and finished second to Jimmie Johnson who earned his fifth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship that year. Hamlin lost by 39 points.
The following year Hamlin couldn't get out of his own way. Emotionally reeling from the loss of the Cup the year before, Hamlin was only able to earn one win at the June race in Michigan. Hamlin made the Chase and finished 9th. The decision was made to let Hamlin’s crew chief Mike Ford go at the end of the season.
The move seemed prophetic and fortuitous. Defending Sprint Cup Championship crew chief Darian Grubb was dropped from Stewart-Haas Racing before they won the Cup together. Hamlin’s team seemed revitalized with the pairing and 2012 started off with a bang.
A win at Phoenix International Raceway for the second points event of the year showed a determined Hamlin. Six races later Hamlin picked up his second win at Kansas Speedway. At the newly repaved Bristol Motor Speedway in August Hamlin won his third race. He followed that up with a win at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the first back-to-back win of the season. Hamlin won top honors in the Chase as he had the most wins in the regular season.
A win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in the Chase gave the impression that Hamlin was going to take the Cup at season’s end. But, alas, the Cup is all but out of reach after Martinsville. Hamlin is 49 points back from the leader Jimmie Johnson.
Disappointed, frustrated, and perhaps a bit baffled, Hamlin will have to regroup and reorganize for 2013. With a new baby on the way he will have some true joy to concentrate before he is once again in the hunt for the elusive Sprint Cup he so doggedly goes after and desires.
Although Hamlin has never been my favorite driver, I’ve enjoyed the comeback story that has unfolded for Hamlin this season. I love the pairing of Grubb and Hamlin and would be interested to see Toyota win its first championship with JGR as well.
Regardless of how he finishes this season, Denny Hamlin has been yet another reason why I love NASCAR.
Chief 187™ is a writer, columnist, and blogger as well as creator of the widely popular Chief 187™Chatter. Her column “Why I Love NASCAR” and other articles are featured on Skirts and Scuffs. She can be reached via Twitter by following @Chief187s. To find out more please visit http://Chief187.com.