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Hamlin Says The Fight Is For Hendrick’s Scraps

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, July 29 2009
Denny Hamlin is quietly headed for another berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images)

Denny Hamlin is quietly headed for another berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

Joe Gibbs Racing has staked a claim to best in class in Sprint Cup, or at least that’s the way Denny Hamlin sized it up on this week’s NASCAR teleconference.

Hamlin said the three-team JGR outfit is the best of the non-Hendrick or Hendrick-affiliated teams.

“Week in, week out, it’s a Hendrick car winning one way, shape or form,” Hamlin said. “Pretty much they’re taking all the top five spots, to be honest with you .”

But he said all is not lost at mid-season.

“We feel like we’ve got a tall mountain to climb, but we’re almost there,” he said. “I feel like we’re three-quarters of the way there right now.  I feel like we’re the closest competitors to those guys on a weekly basis.”

Hendrick indeed has been dominant of late. Hendrick or Hendrick-affiliated drivers have won 11 of the past 15 Cup races, and two of the ones they lost were won by Joey Logano (Loudon) and David Reutimann (Charlotte) who scored unlikely wins when rains ended those races early.

Hamlin said that one key clue to the overall success of the Hendrick effort is the contributions of the Stewart-Haas team, which uses Hendrick engines, chassis and technology.

“Really I think it’s the satellite teams,” he said. “They made their satellite team better in Stewart-Haas.  Ultimately they’re getting better feedback.

“I can almost guarantee you they used zero notes from the 66 and 70 from last year or previous years. But now we hear on the radio the 14 (Tony Stewart) struggles or the 39 (Ryan Newman) struggles, they just say over the radio, ‘Hey, go get the notes from the 5 (Mark Martin), find out what he’s running.’

“That is big.”

A lot bigger than what Hamlin has to draw from.

“All I have is Joey (Logano) and Kyle (Busch) to kind of lean on,” he said. “Our setups are basically driver-tuned and whatnot.  But it seems like whatever they have over there, it’s working for them everywhere, whether it be a front end setting or how they have their spring combination, something like that.”

Engines and the aerodynamics and about everything else on the Hendrick cars seem to be cut above, according to Hamlin.

“I feel like they’re the best in the garage as far as the motors are concerned,” he said. “I feel like their aerodynamics is a little bit better than everyone else right now.

“And their chassis, their aero platform, is better than everyone else’s right now. You put those three things together in a series where a 10th (of a second per lap) makes a difference between 10th and 30th (place), that’s why you see those guys running top five every single week.

“They pick up most of the top five positions. Every now and then you get a Roush car sprinkled in there, me or Kyle in there, but for the most part every week you’re fighting those same five or six race cars for a race win.

“It’s frustrating for the rest of the 36 or so of us, but it’s up to us to work at it and get better.”

Jimmie Johnson said later on the same teleconference that the Hendrick advantage comes from the people who work there.

He said Mark Martin and team owner Rick Hendrick emphasized that in a team meeting.

“Mark’s message and Rick’s was everybody has the same technology,” Johnson said. “The big teams have access to the same stuff.  But what makes the difference is the people.

“Rick works really hard to let his people know they’re important and they’re the reason why this company is successful.”

Hamlin meanwhile is having a solid but not spectacular season. He has four finishes of third or better this year, but no wins. He had fast cars at both Martinsville and Richmond, leading 148 laps at Richmond and 296 at Martinsville, both tracks in his home state of Virginia, but was unable to close the deal.

At Martinsville, he finished second to, you guessed it, a Hendrick car driven by Johnson. At Richmond it was teammate Busch taking the win.

Last week, Hamlin had high hopes at the Brickyard but broke a driveshaft and finished 34th. Still he heads to Pocono sixth in the points standings with a 157-point cushion over 13th-place David Reutimann.

Hamlin’s no mathematician but he knows enough about the potential points swings in NASCAR to realize he’s a long way from being a lock to make the Chase, which starts after six more races.

“On paper it looks good that we’re sixth,” he said. “I’m not comfortable at all with where we’re at.”

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, July 29 2009
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