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Hamlin Playing Lead Role With Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kiddy Corps

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, July 15 2009
With the departure of Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin had had to grab the role of leader at Joe Gibbs Racing.

With the departure of Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin (with crew chief Mike Ford) has had to grab the role of leader at Joe Gibbs Racing.

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

Atlanta – Denny Hamlin’s expression could best be described as a cold stare as he walked into the media room at Atlanta Motor Speedway Tuesday during a break in a Goodyear tire test.

But initial looks were deceiving. When it came time to meet with the media, Hamlin smiled broadly and was warm and engaging in his interviews, as pleasant as could be. For the record, Kurt Busch was equally cooperative, while Tony Stewart and Jamie McMurray declined to participate in the interviews.

Hamlin touched on a number of topics, including his role as the senior driver at Joe Gibbs Racing, a seemingly awkward role for someone just 28 years old.

“I’m trying,” he said. “I’m constantly talking to Joey [Logano] and Kyle [Busch], and texting them during the week and encouraging them to keep pushing, keep digging at it because I know it’ll get better.

“We’ve got good enough people to make it better. I don’t know if it’s a leadership role or a responsibility role.”

Busch, it seems, is Hamlin’s biggest challenge as a team leader. Busch has made no attempt to hide his frustration with his Cup cars of late, even if he is a three-time winner already this year.

“Kyle’s got some issues right now within the team,” he said. “But it’s a slump. I went through it with my team and had frustrations with my cars. It takes time to get through. We’re struggling as a team and trying to get through it together.”

Hamlin also said he’s worked hard to improve himself as a driver, even going as far as seeking opinions and advice from his competitors.

“I like to get feedback from my competitors,” he said. “I talk to Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson and ask them what they expect from me as a competitor:

‘How can I make your job easier and how can I make my job easier so when I come up on you I won’t dread racing you because you’re going to race the crap out of me?’

“I want them to feel the same way. I don’t want to be that guy in the garage area that is a pain in everyone’s rear end. I constantly try to get feedback, and it’s made my life a whole lot easier.”

He said that’s not to say he and his competitors give each other an inordinate number of breaks during a race. “We race each other hard,” he said. “We’re the guys you have to beat to win the race.”

Hamlin also had words of praise for Danica Patrick and said he’d be supportive if she decided to make the jump from Indy cars to NASCAR. He pointed out that she has improved over time as a race driver, which is what all good drivers do.

“I’m excited for her,” he said. “It’s a big opportunity for her and for NASCAR. It works both ways. Hopefully she’s able to succeed. You don’t want to see a driver leave a good thing and come over here and struggle.

“It’ll take a little time, but she’s smart enough to figure it out.”

He also said that he’s confident that if he keeps running like he has the past five weeks (two third- and two-fifth place finishes which put him in fifth-place in the points standings) that he’ll begin winning his share of races. He almost pulled off a win last week at Chicagoland Speedway, but when he and Brian Vickers got together on a late-race restart, it opened the door for Mark Martin to pass them both and take the win.

“I’m due,” he said. “I tried to make my own luck last week and force the issue a little bit, but it’ll come.

“If we keep running top five it’ll be there.”

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, July 15 2009
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