Just eight months ago, Denny Hamlin was visiting the Valley of the Sun on behalf of Phoenix International Raceway, delivering race tickets to lucky PIR fans in a Fed-Ex truck. Fast forward to the 2010 NASCAR season and it’s looking more and more like Hamlin is poised to deliver Joe Gibbs Racing its first Sprint Cup championship since Tony Stewart brought home the hardware in 2005.
“All we do is win baby!” Hamlin whooped to his crew over the radio last weekend just before taking the checkered flag at Michigan International Speedway – his second win in a row. Denny the dominator? That moniker fits as well as any for Hamlin, who has now won five races in his last 11 starts.
What’s been the key to Hamlin’s recent Sprint Cup domination? One theory suggests that everything started to come together for Hamlin at Phoenix’s SUBWAY Fresh Fit 600™ on April 10.
On paper, Hamlin’s 30th place finish at PIR – two weeks after winning at Martinsville – was a disappointment. But the box score didn’t mention that Hamlin had major knee surgery on a torn ACL just 10 days before the SUBWAY Fresh Fit 600™.
After gritting his teeth and gutting out 375 painful laps at PIR, Hamlin met with the Arizona Republic’s Michael Knight and said: “It was just a miserable experience … I'm in more (pain) than I could tell you.”
That grueling experience at PIR, however, served to galvanize Hamlin’s No. 11 team and earned him a measure of respect from his team and crew. Owner Joe Gibbs may have put it best when he told Knight that Hamlin “showed great courage” in Phoenix.
Since that gutty performance at PIR, Hamlin and the No. 11 have been nearly unstoppable and are showing no signs of a letdown. The Virginia-native has been working his way up NASCAR’s Sprint Cup standings week after week and now finds himself in third place with just 11 “regular season” races to go – a mere 47 points behind points leader Kevin Harvick.
"To know you're competitive for a win week in and week out gives you a lot of confidence,” Hamlin said told USA Today this week. “For the first time in my career, I feel like we're at that place.”
And perhaps that measure of confidence – for Hamlin, for his crew and teammates – all started here in Phoenix.
Tickets for 2010 at Phoenix International Raceway can be purchased online at http://PhoenixRaceway.com or by calling 1-866-408-RACE (7223). The PIR Ticket Office is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and weekends from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 125 S. Avondale Blvd., just south of I-10 at Exit 131 in Avondale.