By all accounts, rookie Denny Hamlin should have just considered himself lucky to make the Chase for the Nextel Cup field, but two races in Hamlin has emerged as a legitimate player in this years championship. Hamlin sits fourth in points, tied...
By all accounts, rookie Denny Hamlin should have just considered himself lucky to make the Chase for the Nextel Cup field, but two races in Hamlin has emerged as a legitimate player in this years championship.
Hamlin sits fourth in points, tied with Matt Kenseth (who grabs third because he has more wins) just 18 points shy of leader Jeff Burton. It is a tremendous feat for the pilot of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet. He is the sole Gibbs driver in the field, which says a lot, his teammate reigning Nextel Cup series champion Tony Stewart did not.
"I knew when people started making their prediction of who was going to make the Chase, I knew we were going to be on the outside looking in on the prediction part of it," commented Hamlin. "To me, that was fine because we had nothing else to prove. We had a great season going and when we did make it, it just made it better for us to kind of quiet everyone else and show them that we can do it. I think it's going to be the same way for this championship. I think we're quietly going to be in the hunt, hopefully, come Homestead.
"As long as nothing happens, I feel like we've got years and years to prove that we're a championship contending team. We don't have to do it this year so there's no pressure on our team to perform so we can go out there, have fun and if we are in a situation where we can get the championship, we're going to do it."
Keeping his nose clean in these final seven events may be the key for Hamlin. Fellow twenty-something racers Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch have already been sorely disappointed in their first Chase competition. Pressure on Kahne and Busch may have precipitated lackluster results the first two events that have all but killed their chances of being a factor for this year's title.
For Hamlin he isn't feeling the heat, just yet.
"I really don't feel any pressure compared to these guys," explained Hamlin. "I think it's a big advantage. I think sometimes you get too conservative when you're points racing and you maybe give up five points in this race or 10 points in that race. With us going all out like we are, I don't see where we have anything to lose so we're going to go out there and try to win every race. We're going to treat it as if we're Kyle Busch who is a long shot but needs to go out there and win every race to win the championship. We're going to treat it the exact same way."
Despite his upbeat attitude, Hamlin still realizes he's the long shot in the title race mainly due to inexperience on the Cup level. His results this year have been solid with two wins, five top-fives and 15 top-10 finishes.
"There's nothing wrong with being an underdog, by any means," said Hamlin. "I think Jeff Burton has been an underdog for years and years and everyone sees the way he's stepping up to the plate. I kind of like that role. I kind of like flying under the radar and doing things quietly."
At least Hamlin can rest on his laurels that he will be getting one award in New York during the Cup series banquet. He leads Clint Bowyer by 49 points in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year competition.