Bristol: Denny Hamlin preview

Gimme My Car Back HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (March 12, 2008) -- Denny Hamlin has been nice enough to let Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch, his teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing, borrow his car during the first four races of the 2008 NASCAR Nationwide Series ...

Gimme My Car Back

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (March 12, 2008) -- Denny Hamlin has been nice enough to let Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch, his teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing, borrow his car during the first four races of the 2008 NASCAR Nationwide Series season. Now he wants it back.

Hamlin, a Chesterfield, Va.-native who has 92 Nationwide Series starts to his credit over the past three seasons with Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 20 team, will finally get his first opportunity of 2008 to pilot the No. 20 Z-Line Designs Toyota in the Sharpie Mini 300 Saturday at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.

Since 2005, Hamlin and crew chief Dave Rogers made the No. 20 car better each time they unloaded at the race track. The duo captured five wins and amassed 24 top-five and 50 top-10 finishes in their three years together, steadily bringing the No. 20 machine up through the championship standings, as it went from seventh in points in 2005, to fourth in 2006, to an organization-best second in 2007.

The foundation that Hamlin and Rogers built during that time has helped establish the No. 20 team as the dominant force four races into the 2008 Nationwide Series campaign.

Stewart drove the No. 20 car to win the season-opening Nationwide Series race at Daytona, and then made it back-to-back wins when he took the No. 20 Z-Line Designs Toyota to victory the very next week at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

With Rogers continuing to call the shots from atop the pit box, Stewart appeared ready to make history by beginning the season with three straight wins. In round three at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Stewart again had the dominant car, measured by his leading twice for 61 laps before an accident just past the mid-point of the race knocked him out of the event.

Similar domination continued the very next week at Atlanta Motor Speedway, as Kyle Busch took over the No. 20 and proceeded to lead five times for a race-high 153 laps. But while the domination was similar, so too was the result. A broken right front shock on lap 171 sent Busch and his No. 20 ride hard into the outside wall, effectively ending any shot at winning.

After seeing what used to be his signature No. 20 lead 396 laps of an available 670 laps in the first four races of the season (59.1 percent), Hamlin knows his No. 20 car has become familiar leading the pack. And as he carries the black and red colors of Z-Line Designs at Bristol, the San Ramon, Calif.-based designer and import manufacturer of ready-to-assemble furniture has become a familiar leader on NASCAR ovals, augmenting the company's presence as a leader in the furniture industry. That's why Z-Line Designs has added two more races to its original 11-race Nationwide Series schedule. A visit to the ultra-fast Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway on April 26 and a trip to racing's heartland at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., on May 24 gives Z-Line Designs a grand total of 13 races in 2008.

And with the success the No. 20 team has achieved so far this season, Hamlin finally gets his opportunity to share in the limelight when he takes the wheel of the Z-Line Designs machine at Bristol. For a guy who made a name for himself on the rough-and-tumble short tracks of Virginia and the Carolinas, the tight confines and aggressive nature of Bristol's bowl-shaped .533-mile oval makes Hamlin's return to the familiar cockpit of his No. 20 ride feel second-nature. For sponsor Z-Line Designs, that could very well mean a second Nationwide Series win.

Denny Hamlin -- Driver, No. 20 Z-Line Designs NASCAR Nationwide Series Toyota Camry at Bristol Motor Speedway

It seems like you've been out of the No. 20 Nationwide Series car for a long time, but it's only been since Homestead last season. How much are you looking forward to getting back in a Dave Rogers-prepared No. 20 Toyota at Bristol?

"I'm really looking forward to it. They've pretty much dominated all the races so far this season. It's great to be able to work with Dave again, since we feel like we built the No. 20 car program together over the last three years. Our chemistry was really good last year, and I'm sure we'll pick up where we left off this weekend. Hopefully, we can make up for the bad luck these guys have had the last couple of weeks."

How hard has it been to watch the No. 20 car dominate knowing you wouldn't get your shot until Bristol?

"It's tough because I'm so used to the 20 car being my ride. It's just a testament to what Dave Rogers can do as a crew chief and how switching to Toyota has not only elevated our program on the Sprint Cup side, but also in the Nationwide Series. We had to realign some things in our Nationwide Series program since Kyle (Busch) wanted to run quite a few races. We brought him in and you only have so many cars and sponsors. It's been hard to watch from the sidelines over the past three weeks since its so much fun to drive such a strong race car, but I think the most important thing for me was that I was able to give up a few races so I could select some race tracks that I really like to run. I always enjoy Bristol because of my short track roots, and I'm looking forward to running at Phoenix and getting a chance to run both races at home in Richmond."

Does the relatively new concrete surface at Bristol change how you race there as opposed to before it was resurfaced?

"It's a lot of fun to race there. I only got to race for a little bit there in the August Cup Series race before my engine blew up and ended our day early. It was fun because you can move around on that race track where you really couldn't before. The changes definitely promoted good racing. I didn't get to run in the Nationwide Series race last year, but I got to watch the race last year there and it was spectacular. Hopefully, we'll be a part of that same battle out front that Kyle got to be a part of last August."

Dave Rogers really believes that you and he were able to build the No. 20 Nationwide Series program to the high level that it currently enjoys. Is that something you're especially proud of in your still young racing career?

"I would definitely like to be in the car more, but I'll take all the races they give me. Our time together the last couple of years couldn't have been more fun. I feel like Dave and I built that program together into what it is. They are finally reaping the rewards of all of that hard work all of those guys have been doing for a number of years."

Dave Rogers -- Crew Chief, No. 20 Z-Line Designs NASCAR Nationwide Series Joe Gibbs Racing Team

You've had so much success with Denny Hamlin in the No. 20 Nationwide Series car over the last couple of years. How much are you looking forward to having him back in your car at Bristol?

"I'm really looking forward to it. Denny built this program with the No. 20 car. A couple of years ago he asked me to come over here and help him build something. I think you're seeing the fruits of that now. We worked so hard on making our cars turn and making our chassis better at Denny's dictation. And now we stepped it up a little bit more, and I think Kyle (Busch) and Tony (Stewart) have benefited from it. Hopefully, we'll get Denny in there at Bristol and we can continue to run strong and have some more success with him this year."

You've had Kyle and Tony in the car thus far, so do you think Denny is going to attempt to outrun the other two guys when he gets his opportunity behind the wheel of the No. 20 car this weekend?

"He's probably going to worry about saving the right front tire. But seriously, I talked to Denny last weekend at Atlanta and he's pumped up to get back into the race car. He misses racing this Nationwide Series car, so he's excited to get in it, and I think after the way this car ran at Atlanta, he's going to be even more excited to try and get us another victory at Bristol."

Chassis No. 2041: This chassis has the most race experience out of any chassis currently in Joe Gibbs Racing's Nationwide Series shop. The Sharpie Mini 300 will be the 45th race for Chassis No. 2041, dating back to its debut in the 2003 Tropicana Twister 300 at Chicagoland Speedway with former JGR driver Mike Bliss at the controls. While this chassis made its debut in 2003, it didn't get its first win until Denny Hamlin brought the car to victory lane in the 2006 Diamond Hill Plywood 200 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. Hamlin also brought this same chassis to victory lane one year later in the same event at Darlington. In addition to the wins at Darlington, Hamlin drove No. 2041 to poles at Darlington, Dover (Del.) International Speedway and Chicagoland in 2007.

-credit: jbr

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Drivers Tony Stewart , Mike Bliss , Denny Hamlin , Kyle Busch
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing