Get the latest Denny Hamlin news, media, stats, and standings for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver only on the official site of NASCAR.
Get the latest Denny Hamlin news, media, stats, and standings for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver only on the official site of NASCAR.
Get the latest Denny Hamlin news, media, stats, and standings for the NASCAR Nationwide Series driver only on the official site of NASCAR.
Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup third-place finisher, Denny Hamlin , gives a speech at the Sprint Cup Series Awards in Las Vegas.
Haunting memories of 2010 are put aside for now RELATED: Follow your picks in the Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Unless and until Denny Hamlin wins his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, the legacy of Phoenix International Raceway and the 2010 season will haunt one of NASCAR's most successful drivers. But failure to seize opportunity had to be the furthest thing from Hamlin's mind when dusk turned to darkness in the desert on Saturday. His eyes were fixed on his not-quite-2-year-old daughter Taylor as the toddler wandered toward the media center stage. At the microphone, Daddy was discussing winning his third pole of the season and leading all drivers in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with two races to go. It was a chance for Hamlin to exhale, embrace the moment and think about all the future might hold. Capturing his 20th career pole had come as a pleasant surprise. His car had been far from terrific in practice. He attributed his fast lap, in part, to knowing the track and hitting his marks precisely. Oh, yes, he's been here before, literally and figuratively. But he tries not to think about 2010 and what might have been. Hamlin not only came to Arizona leading the Chase standings by 33 points, but he also led 190 laps at Phoenix that November Sunday and would have likely cruised to victory if not for an ill-fated fuel strategy that forced him to pit with 14 laps to go. That relegated him to a 12th-place finish and reduced his lead to 15 points over reigning champion Jimmie Johnson , who took command from the outset when the chips were on the table the following week at Homestead-Miami Speedway . "You know, I don't think about it actually that often unless we're watching a highlight film or something like that," said Hamlin , who earlier this week admitted to the hangover effect when he got to Homestead. "In 2010, I feel like at Homestead I was still kind of bummed about what happened at Phoenix. I think every now and then about what we could have done differently. But you can't really second-guess." Sunday's Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) could go a long way toward exorcising those demons, and Hamlin , once again, knows that he controls his own destiny, even though his path to the championship is not nearly as clear-cut. Although he is tied with Joey Logano for the lead in points, six other drivers are still very much in contention for the crown. Only the top four will advance to next week's Championship Weekend with those title hopes still intact. "We were racing less guys, for sure," says Hamlin , recalling the final races of the 2010 season, including his victory at Texas Motor Speedway , his career-high eighth win of the season that propelled him to the edge of glory. "There was a point in the year where myself, Jimmie and Kevin (Harvick) had kind of broken ourselves away from the pack. Now, there are obviously more players in the game." And, with just one victory under his belt in 2014 (Talladega), Hamlin is hardly brimming with the supreme confidence bred by repeated trips to Victory Lane four years ago. "I don't feel like our performance is (at) as high of a level as it was then," Hamlin said. "So, that's more of an obstacle." That's why Saturday's pole-winning performance was so important from a mental standpoint in addition to gaining the physical advantages of leading the field and pit stall selection. "It definitely came out of the blue from my perspective," Hamlin said. "I didn't think we had a pole-winning car. I thought (starting in) the top eight would have been a huge bonus. But this showed that we have speed in the car. We just have to figure out how to get it optimized for 312 laps around this race track on Sunday." In part, Hamlin thanks the new Chase format for keeping his team in contention. "The best thing that happened (to this sport) in a long time," he said. "Even though some of the better teams throughout the entire year will probably get eliminated this weekend, other teams will be moving on. You still have to go through the due process of making it all the way to the end. The best record in any other sport does not guarantee you to be in the championship matchup." It's not as though Hamlin has not experienced success at Phoenix. He won at PIR in March 2012, one of five wins that season and 14 top-five finishes. But the rewards have been slim the last two seasons, particularly last year when he was sidelined early by a fractured vertebra. This season has not been without incident. In fact, having missed the fifth points race of the season at Auto Club Speedway due to a sliver of metal in his eye, Hamlin has the chance to become the first driver since Richard Petty in 1971 to win a Cup title without competing in every race. But first things, first. With the eight Cup contenders separated by just 18 points, Hamlin must survive Sunday at Phoenix before he can even begin thinking about a trophy run at Homestead. A finish of 11th or better will assure him a spot in the final four, but Hamlin isn't thinking that way. "I think the competition level is just too close and tight to be able to think that you're going to be able to coast to an 11th place," he said. "Nowadays, the difference between 11th and third and 20th is not that much. You've got to go all out every single lap and fight for every position on restarts. There is no backing into this thing and coasting our way to Homestead. "Our team has done a good job of grinding our way through this. We haven't beaten ourselves with bad finishes. Now, we have an opportunity." That opportunity begins with a second chance at Phoenix -- a chance for Hamlin to permanently leave those demons in the rearview mirror. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
Title contender, team owner have long and unique history together RELATED: Follow your picks in the Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- It's a moment Denny Hamlin still remembers vividly, when as a bright-eyed 11-year-old fan of the NFL's Washington Redskins, he famously told Coach Joe Gibbs that he'd love to win a championship driving for him someday. Come Sunday, he'll have another great opportunity to make good on his childhood dream. Hamlin enters Sunday's season finale (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) at Homestead-Miami Speedway as one of the four drivers vying for their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. As he has for the duration of his nine-year career in stock-car racing's top division, he'll be carrying the flag for Joe Gibbs Racing behind the wheel of his familiar No. 11. "It would mean a lot. I'm still with the race team that gave me my start and not only that, the sponsor, too," Hamlin said. "We have a long relationship with Joe Gibbs Racing and FedEx and even the team members that work on my race car that have been with me from the very, very start -- it would be so gratifying to win the championship for them. They've worked their guts out and even though this year hasn't produced results that we expect and the expectations that we expect to hit when we hit the race track, we find ourselves in a winner-take-all type format for one race and we know anything can happen." In 1992, Hamlin was impatiently waiting at an autograph session to meet Gibbs, who had just finished leading the Redskins to their third Super Bowl title. The team owner was also getting his fledgling single-team stock-car racing operation off the ground with Dale Jarrett, now a NASCAR Hall of Famer, as his driver. That's when pre-teen Hamlin saw his chance to tout his still-developing go-karting skills, drawing what he characterized as a "there, there, now run along" type of response from the veteran coach. He also got the autograph on a hat he cherished, only to have the keepsake fly out his school bus window during one of his spells of restlessness on the ride home. Hamlin said he "cried for two weeks" after the autographed cap went missing, but that he never lost his loyalty to the man who would one day become his car owner. "He's a great guy and what I love is that I'm driving for a family organization," Hamlin said. "I want to win it so bad for them because they are all in this sport. If their race team goes under they got nothing -- they have nothing. To race for an owner that lives and breathes racing like Joe does and he's at the race shop every morning when that shop door opens and that means a lot to me. There would be no other person more gratifying to win this for than him, especially a guy that I looked up to as a kid." Hamlin's best shot at a championship before this weekend came in 2010. He led the Sprint Cup standings entering the Homestead finale, but an early race spin left his car with splitter damage and an uphill climb. Jimmie Johnson capitalized and went on to secure the fifth of his sixth titles. Gibbs said Hamlin was "absolutely devastated" by the defeat, taking the brunt of the blame. This time around, the coach says he sees a more mature driver on the cusp of a championship. Hamlin , for one, says he notices a considerable difference in his approach, four years later. "Just playing this game way more relaxed," Hamlin said, describing his self-induced tension on the eve of the 2010 finale. "I didn't do anything that night, didn't want anyone coming in -- just wanted to focus on what I needed to do, but that wasn't what got me to that point. It was being myself and having my friends and family around -- playing cards before driver intros, whatever it took to loosen me up. That's what I did for 35 races and I changed that for one race and it won't be the case this time around. Just racing much looser and having fun with this moment. You never know, especially with this type of format. Live it up and have some fun." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
JGR driver will lead field to green in Sunday's Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) MORE: Full race lineup AVONDALE, Ariz.— Needing an 11th-place finish or better in Sunday's Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 to secure one of four positions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' title race, Denny Hamlin took a giant step toward that goal with a pole-winning effort on Friday at Phoenix International Raceway . Hamlin covered the one-mile distance in 25.332 seconds (142.113 mph) to win his third Coors Light pole award of the season, his second at Phoenix and the 20th of his career. The driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota edged fellow Chase driver Brad Keselowski (142.079 mph) by .006 seconds for the top starting spot in the final race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup's Eliminator Round (on ESPN at 3 p.m. ET). With Kevin Harvick third at 141.995 mph, Joey Logano fourth and Matt Kenseth fifth (both at 141.794 mph) and Jeff Gordon sixth at 141.665 mph, Chase drivers claimed six of the top seven spots on the grid. The only interloper was Kyle Busch , who will start sixth after posting a lap at 141.771 mph. With one of the best pit crews in the Sprint Cup garage, Hamlin will choose pit stall No. 1, closest to the exit from pit road and a considerable advantage at Phoenix. But even with the top starting spot and the best pit box, Hamlin doesn't think he'll be able to coast to the final race. "I think the competition is just too close and tight to think that you're just going to coast to an 11th-place finish," Hamlin said. "Nowadays, the difference between 11th and third and 20th is not that much, so you've got to go all-out on every single lap and fight for every position on restarts. "So, really, from my standpoint, there is no backing into this thing and coasting our way to Homestead. We have to go out there and perform at a high level, or else we're not going to make it. There are too many cars that are too good for us to think that we're just going to ride around and take our spot." Harvick, who was fastest in Friday's opening practice, said he didn't "connect the dots" in either round of knockout qualifying. Nevertheless, the consensus in the garage is that Harvick, who has won three of the last four Phoenix races, has the fastest car in race trim. "I just didn't hit everything on both laps," Harvick said. "I got up the race track a little bit the first lap in Turn 1, and on the second lap, I got up the track at Turns 3 and 4. So I just missed it by a little bit, but our Budweiser Chevrolet is really good in race trim and (I'm) really looking forward to the race. "We have to keep tweaking on it tomorrow and know we qualified 13th here the first time and drove to the lead. We have to keep doing what we're doing, and we'll be fine." Keselowski and Harvick, who are seventh and eighth in the Chase standings know that a victory at Phoenix is their surest path to the season finale. Keselowski, who had to win at Talladega to advance to the Eliminator Round, spelled it out. "Technically, I don't have to win this race, but the probabilities are that I do," he explained. "I think it will be very hard to pass three cars in points. I think I'm within five on all three, but that means if you didn't win, you'd have to beat at least three cars by five spots on the track—and these are good guys. These are good drivers and good teams. "There's a reason why they're this far in the Chase, and to beat all three of those by five spots, that's a tough task for anyone to really feel good about. But you know if you win, you're in, and that's the great thing about this system and we have a great shot at it, for sure." Chase driver Carl Edwards was 25th fastest in opening practice but improved to 13th in time trials. "I hate to admit it, but I'm very happy with 13th," Edwards said. "We were about a 25th-place car in practice, and I was nervous about this and it went well, so that's good. I'm telling you, we're within striking distance. "We're better than we qualified in the spring, and now we work on race trim. We're always better in the race here than we are in qualifying, so we'll just go focus on it and keep digging." Ryan Newman, who needs a ninth-place finish to advance to Homestead with title eligibility, qualified 20th, deepest in the field of the Chase drivers. Clay Rogers failed to make the 43-car field. MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news WATCH: Latest NASCAR video PLAY: NASCAR Fantasy Live FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
Denny Hamlin's comeback continues as he celebrates another victory during Speedweeks winning the second Budweiser Duel.
After a tough battle at Talladega Superspeedway Denny Hamlin is the victor of the Aaron's 499.
Sam Hornish Jr. will race the No. 11 Toyota for Denny Hamlin in Fontana after Hamlin was not able to start the race due to a sinus infection.