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Hamlin: Fail Of 2010 Is Going Propel Team In 2014

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, November 14 2014

Denny Hamlin bottomed out in 2010 at Homestead. He's back for another shot at a championship this weekend. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Four years ago, as the Sprint Cup Series arrived at Homestead-Miami Speedway for it’s annual season-ending, championship-deciding weekend, it seemed all but certain that square peg Denny Hamlin was about to jam himself into a round hole.

The kid who just never really seemed to fit the part of star NASCAR driver, had fast Joe Gibbs Racing cars, the points lead and, having won two of the previous four races in the Chase and eight on the season, momentum/confidence.

With a 35-point lead over second-place Jimmie Johnson and a 76-point lead over third-place Kevin Harvick, all Hamlin needed to do was finish ahead of those two and the championship would be his.

But during the lead-up to the race, in press conferences and in interview sessions, Hamlin never looked more square. Harvick put the needle to him in the main meeting with the press and Hamlin looked awkward and a bit stunned trying to respond.

Then came the race, and the tone set by the No. 11 team during championship week continued. Hamlin, who started a startling P37 after an ugly qualifying run, made contact with Greg Biffle 24 laps in and spun. He would finish 14th. He would finish second to Johnson in the final standings.

And, in the hours after the finish of the race, he would look like he had just gotten hit in the head with a 9-iron.

A couple of weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway, Hamlin reflected on Homestead 2010 by saying, “We just had a bad weekend overall and for some reason I just never felt it that entire weekend. None of the days just felt right at all. It wasn’t nerves or anything, some days you feel it and some days you don’t.”

It was kind of Hamlin in a nutshell. He seems to not feel “it” at some very important times.

Now, as one of four drivers in the final Championship Race field at Homestead this weekend, Hamlin is back. Not back, he insists is a feeling of not having “it”.

He says the maturity missing four years ago is in place now.

Thanks in big part, he said, to what happened four years ago.

“I think a lot of it has to do with how our 2010 went,” he told reporters Friday. “You can compare stats and things like that, and I don’t think Kevin (Harvick) had as many wins as we had in 2010, but we were just as dominant.  When we came down to it and it was myself and Kevin and Jimmie (Johnson), everyone said the 11 has all the speed so he’s going to win the championship. Speed doesn’t mean jack if you can’t execute.”

Hamlin and his team have shown an ability to execute in recent weeks. Like last week when, after starting from the pole and leading the first 26 laps, he had a tire problem and eventually fell off the lead lap.

But he and his team stayed cool, took advantage of rules, and came back to secure a berth in the Final Four. In doing so, Hamlin and team proved that execution means jack.

“That’s the biggest thing I think we’ve done really, really well within our team to keep moving on is executing,” he said. “Even though we overcame some adversity last week, we got here because we didn’t make the mistakes that all the other fast guys did.  That gives us an opportunity to go out there and put it all on the line.”

Dang the cliches: It’s all on the line Sunday.

And that means pressure. And that could mean trouble for one or all of the final four.

In 2010, it mean’t trouble for Hamlin. Now 34 years old, the Virginia native says its somebody else’s turn to gag and run into trouble.

“There is going to be some human error when it comes to this championship and I think human error could decide who’s going to be our champion,” Hamlin said. “In 2010, I just was so different because of the expectations of that season were so high and everyone thought we were a shoe-in and I thought we were a shoe-in, I let the moment overtake me.

“This time around, I just feel like we survived and we kept surviving and now we have a shot at it.  To me, there is no place to go but up.  We missed a race earlier this year in California, we’d be 17th in points or something and we’ve had a lot of bad things happen, but now we’re on even ground to win a championship.  I’m ecstatic to be here and I’m going to treat this weekend like it’s my birthday weekend and go have fun.  This is what I dreamed about, but win lose or draw, it’s not going to define me one way or the other.”

Sounds like the square peg’s edges are beginning to round off a little bit.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, November 14 2014
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