Denny Hamlin to Drive ...
Denny Hamlin to Drive #11 FedEx Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing Set to Campaign for 2006 Rookie of the Year Honors in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series
FORT WORTH, Texas (Nov. 6, 2005) - The #11 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series team fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) has named Denny Hamlin as the driver for the remainder of the 2005 season and all of 2006.
After a successful four-race tryout in the #11 FedEx Chevrolet where Hamlin scored two top-10 finishes and two top-10 qualifying efforts, the 24-year-old from Chesterfield, Va., has essentially been promoted from within the Gibbs organization. Hamlin is the regular driver for JGR's #20 NASCAR Busch Series team, where he is currently fifth in the championship point standings.
"This is a great opportunity," said Hamlin, who only a year ago was racing Late Model stock cars in the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series and dabbling in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. "I've taken to the Cup cars really quick. From the moment I had my first test in a Cup car I was comfortable, and when it came time to race, the comfort level stayed with me.
"It's only been four races, but I feel like I have a really good rapport with the team. It's nice to know I'll be able to finish the season with them so that we'll have even more time to work toward next year."
A glimpse of Hamlin's quick ascension to Nextel Cup was seen last November when he made his first career Busch Series start at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. In that race, Hamlin started 23rd and finished eighth. Considering Darlington's heritage as a true driver's track because of its tricky confines, the performance was indicative of Hamlin's potential.
"Denny made a big impact on our guys at JGR from the first time we saw him race Late Models in Virginia," said Team President J.D. Gibbs, alluding to the 45 wins Hamlin collected between 2002 and 2004 at local short tracks throughout the Southeast. "After he helped prepare our race cars for our Late Model diversity team and we saw his talent and passion, we knew we had to take a chance on Denny. It was one of the best decisions we've made, and we know he'll do a fantastic job representing the 200,000 FedEx associates in our #11 Chevrolet."
Jimmy Makar, a veteran crew chief who now serves as JGR's senior vice-president of racing, concurs.
"Denny is ready for Nextel Cup. Each step he's taken to get to this point, he's excelled. Last year we put him in a few Craftsman Truck Series races and he always seemed to qualify and finish in or near the top-10. In his Busch debut, it was more of the same. He's run very well this year in his first full season of Busch, and if it weren't for some bad luck here and there, he'd probably have a win or two. We'd be holding Denny back if we didn't give him this opportunity."
Hamlin will run for Rookie of the Year honors in 2006, as his Nextel Cup rookie status will be preserved this year by running only seven races. Hamlin will continue to drive the #20 car in the Busch Series full-time in 2006, getting as much seat time as possible at Nextel Cup venues where the Busch Series runs companion races. For the handful of race weekends where the Nextel Cup Series and the Busch Series race at different venues, Hamlin will follow a schedule similar to the one used this year by Carl Edwards, who is campaigning a full Nextel Cup and Busch Series schedule for Roush Racing.