Fontana: Denny Hamlin preview

Hamlin at Auto Club Speedway: This weekend will mark Hamlin's ninth-career Cup start at the two-mile track in Fontana and his 153rd career Cup Series start. Last fall, Hamlin led the field to the green from the pole and then led 21 laps before...

Hamlin at Auto Club Speedway: This weekend will mark Hamlin's ninth-career Cup start at the two-mile track in Fontana and his 153rd career Cup Series start. Last fall, Hamlin led the field to the green from the pole and then led 21 laps before his day ended agonizingly early. Hamlin, leading on a lap 190 restart, clipped the left rear of his car on Juan Pablo Montoya's car and spun into the end of the infield pit wall. The wreck ended Hamlin's afternoon and put a severe dent in his 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship aspirations. In the spring of 2009, Hamlin's late surge into the top-ten and subsequent sixth-place finish had the team moving up the points list into 15th-place heading to Las Vegas. Hamlin fought an ill-handling car for much of the race but persevered as the FedEx crew worked through myriad changes on pit road. Great pit stops on laps 169 and 209 earned Hamlin places on pit road that set him up in fourth for the final restart on lap 215. As the laps counted down Hamlin could do little to hold the fourth spot and ultimately slipped back to sixth at the checkered flag. In the fall of 2008 Hamlin and the #11 FedEx Racing team registered a best- ever third-place finish at Auto Club to propel them into the 2008 Chase. In the spring of 2008 Hamlin was forced from the rain delayed Monday-afternoon race early when he hit water seeping through the track on lap 15 of the event and was sent sailing into the turn two wall. Despite making considerable repairs, the damage was done and Hamlin was scored in 41st place. In the fall 2007 race a cut tire under caution late in the race spoiled what was otherwise a promising day for the FedEx team and led to a 19th-place finish. In the spring of 2006, Hamlin had a very competitive car and ran as high as third place before handling issues caused him to fade late in the race and take the checkered in 11th. During his rookie campaign, Hamlin posted finishes of sixth and 12th and led 29 laps in the fall edition -- the only laps he led until the fall of 2009.

Auto Club 500 CHASSIS -- JGR 256 and 246: The FedEx team will unload Chassis JGR 256 this weekend in California. This car last raced in Charlotte during the 2009 Chase when engine troubles relegated Hamlin to a 42nd-place finish. Chassis 246 sat on the pole at Auto Club last fall and will serve as the backup this weekend.

FedEx Freight Service Center in Whittier, California Along for the Ride in Auto Club Speedway: The #11 FedEx Freight Toyota will carry the letters WHT on the B-posts for Sunday's Auto Club 500 in recognition of the FedEx Freight service center in Whittier. The center is being recognized for best accident and injury performance within the greater San Bernardino region.

HAMLIN CONVERSATION -- AUTO CLUB:

With Daytona behind you, do you change your mindset? Is this the real start of the season?: "In a lot of ways, it is the start of the season. This is when we get into a normal weekend routine and with as big as Daytona is as a single event, it sometimes draws attention away from the long season we have ahead of us. For us on the #11 team, Daytona has always left us with the challenge of trying to work our way back up in the points and every year that process starts at Auto Club for us. I know I am ready to get into this season and work on getting back into that groove and see where we stack up. Knowing how well we ran in Fontana last fall I am excited to get back there and see if we can pick up where we left off."

You had a great run spoiled in the Chase here last fall? Does that affect your preparation?: "Last fall was really tough. It was a case of being far too concerned with where Jimmie was, thinking I needed to beat him and trying to force the issue. I had a second or third place car that day and should have done what I needed to do to bring that car home in second or third. Instead I pushed too hard trying to win that race and I took myself out and really put a dent in our Chase. That's part of maturing as a driver but also as a competitor to the 48 team. You just can't beat yourself with those guys around and I think we learned that lesson here last year. I know I will not make that mistake again."

-source: jgr

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya