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Hamlin Puts 2013 In Past

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, December 6 2013

Denny Hamlin won't be on the dais in Vegas – this year. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Gregg Ellman)

On Friday night in Las Vegas, the usual suspects will be in their usual places on dais at the Sprint Cup Awards banquet. Well, most of the usual suspects.

Seated in the audience this year will be Denny Hamlin, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver who has been a Chase berth-earner every year since 2007 and a dais occupant in all but one of his seven full-time Cup seasons heading into 2013.

This year? Everything flew apart for Hamlin and his team. A back injury cost him four starts and average finishes in races he did start sent him to Homestead-Miami Speedway for the season-finale looking for his first victory of 2013.

“Yeah, it’s a horrible year,” Hamlin said at Homestead. “I was going to be counting down the laps. You hate to say you give up, but you kind of concede the fact that we weren’t going to keep the streak alive of a win every year.”

This week, Hamlin was considerably more upbeat – if not about 2013, then about 2014. Much of the uptick in mood was due to winning at Homestead last month.

“At this point what I really love about the win (at Homestead) is that you appreciate it so much more because you went through the bad times,” he said. “I was just so fortunate for the first seven years of my career to not really have a horrible season. We were always able to win races every year. Any given week, we knew we could win. It was just taken for granted, it seemed like.

“When we went to victory lane, it was like, ‘Yeah, it’s another one.’ When you go an entire year or more without winning, it makes you appreciate when you get back there. I think this does so much more emotionally to our confidence knowing that we can get back to the top. For me, it just makes me appreciate that opportunity that I have.”

Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth, who finished second in the 2013 championship, said this week that the impact of Hamlin’s victory at Homestead could have long-range positive effects.

For Hamlin and the entire JGR team.

“Everybody might not have the same outlook as me,” Kenseth said, “but it’s been a struggle for him (Denny Hamlin) this year between getting hurt and being out of the car and getting back in and not running as good as he always runs. Denny is a guy that can win every week and contend for a championship just like Kyle (Busch, the third JGR driver). I just think it’s good. I’m not saying he was low on confidence, but it’s good to build confidence for him and that whole team and organization to get all three cars to where we feel that all three of us can go and compete for a title again.”

Sounds like a return to the dais in Vegas for Hamlin could come as soon as 2014.

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, December 6 2013
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