Phoenix II: Denny Hamlin preview

DENNY HAMLIN 'It's My Turn' HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Nov. 4, 2008) -- When you're hot, you're hot. And when the hot potato otherwise known as the No. 18 DLP HDTV Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) heads to Phoenix International Raceway (PIR)...

'It's My Turn'

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Nov. 4, 2008) -- When you're hot, you're hot. And when the hot potato otherwise known as the No. 18 DLP HDTV Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) heads to Phoenix International Raceway (PIR) for Saturday's Hefty Odor Block 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series race, all eyes will be on Denny Hamlin to see just what happens next.

Hamlin takes over the No. 18 JGR Toyota for Saturday's 200-mile journey in the Arizona desert in search of the team's 11th Nationwide Series victory of 2008 and Joe Gibbs Racing's 20th overall, as the series' hottest team the latter half of the season is still very much hungry for more.

With Hamlin and Kyle Busch and even 18-year-old JGR development driver Marc Davis taking their turns behind the wheel of JGR's No. 18 car over the most recent stretch of races in hot potato fashion, the Nationwide Series' hottest team has scored five wins in its last seven outings. Last Saturday's dominating run at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth by Busch gave the No. 18 team its 10th victory of the season to go one better than JGR's No. 20 Toyota team, which opened the season on a tear by winning nine races by the July 4 weekend event at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway at the hands of Tony Stewart, Busch, Hamlin and 18-year-old Joey Logano.

Of Hamlin's four Nationwide Series wins in 17 starts this season, two have come in JGR's No. 18 Toyota and the other two in the No. 20 car. His most recent win was in his last series start in the No. 18 car at Kansas Speedway the last weekend in September, one week after Busch guided it to victory lane at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. Busch then added to the victory total with wins at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., and last weekend at Texas in consecutive starts that sandwiched the Nationwide Series debut of Davis in the No. 18 DLP HDTV Toyota at Memphis Motorsports Park in Millville, Tenn. Even though Davis' maiden voyage didn't result in a win, the young driver turned heads with a second-row qualifying effort and only a slow tire leak in the opening stages of the race plucked him from his hot pursuit of the race leaders and left the team wondering what might have been.

Saturday's race brings Hamlin back to the mile oval where Busch and the No. 18 team enjoyed their second victory of the season in April and their second in as many weeks together. The previous weekend, with DLP HDTV sponsoring the effort for the very first time, Busch tallied the No. 18 team's first Nationwide Series win in history and kept the ball rolling on what has turned out to be the most dominant seasons by a single organization in series history.

Hamlin, a Chesterfield, Va., native and full-time driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry for JGR in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, should once again feel very much at home at PIR this weekend. Even though the desert setting is night-and-day different from the lush, wooded landscape in his home state of Virginia, the experience will again take him back to his early days running Late Models on short tracks in and around his mid-Atlantic stomping grounds.

Prior to his September Nationwide Series victory on the mile-and-a-half oval at Kansas, and the 2.5-mile superspeedway at Daytona in July, Hamlin demonstrated his racing prowess on the shorter tracks by scoring dominating wins on the mile oval at Dover in June and his season's first victory -- and an emotional one -- before the home folks on the Richmond (Va.) International Speedway three-quarter-mile oval.

Saturday afternoon at Phoenix, Hamlin will be back in his racing element, strapped into a thoroughly proven winner on the Nationwide Series circuit this season. First and foremost on his mind will be making the DLP HDTV two-for-three on the year and, in the bigger picture of things, making the Joe Gibbs Racing organization NASCAR's first 20-race winner in Nationwide Series history.

Denny Hamlin -- Driver, No. 18 DLP HDTV® NASCAR Nationwide Series Toyota Camry at Phoenix International Raceway

You grew up racing Late Models on the Saturday-night short tracks in Virginia. Does racing at a flat track like Phoenix bring you back to your roots?

"Phoenix reminds me more of racing when I was younger, for sure. I spent plenty of time early in my career running flat tracks in Late Models and PIR feels like that to me. Racing at Phoenix brings back some great memories from the Late Model days, when I started my career. Phoenix is one of my favorite places to race and a big reason for that is that it reminds me of the weekend short track racing back home in Virginia."

While racing at Phoenix might put you in a comfort zone, would you call its layout particularly challenging?

"The track can be really tricky. It's flat and requires you to be really good with your set-up if you are going to be quick through the corners. I spent a lot of time running on flat tracks, not the mile-and-a-half banked tracks that we run at often. That experience helps me because it feels familiar to me and I'm comfortable there because of it. Both ends of the race track at Phoenix are completely different. On top of that, the dogleg on the backstretch can trip you up, as well. Being off there just a little bit can be the difference between running well and really struggling. Track position is also going to be very important, so I'm sure the guys will be ready to give us some great stops on Saturday. We won the race there in April with Kyle (Busch), but we're bringing a fairly new and different race car, so I'm hoping we can work some more of the magic that the guys on the 18 team have done all year."

After your impressive win in the No. 18 car at Kansas last September, followed by dominating wins by Kyle (Busch) at Charlotte and Texas, is it safe to say winning races has come to be expected by the guys on the team no matter who's driving?

"There's no doubt I have a lot of confidence in all of these guys with the No. 18 team. Every time you get in one of their race cars, you know you have a great chance to win. It's just a team effort with all of those guys and everyone has pitched in. They are just putting together race cars that are so good when they leave the shop that they are already good when you unload. They've been building the program for so long, and with the addition of the help from Toyota this season, it's become a really strong team. It's not one individual there, right now. You can take people in and out, here and there, but at the end of the day we've got the whole package right now, and I'm just proud to be part of this team. Our win at Kansas was special in that it locked up the manufacturer championship for Toyota. What a great accomplishment for Toyota to come into this sport and two years later lock up a championship in the Nationwide Series. That means a lot. They've been a manufacturer that has been behind this race team 120 percent. If we have any problems, any complaints, they're the first to go to work on it. We've gotten all the tools we need to go win for them."

The Car

Chassis No. 1886: Saturday's Hefty Odor Block 200 will be the second race for Chassis No. 1886. It made its NASCAR Nationwide Series debut in September at Richmond (Va.) International Speedway, where Denny Hamlin qualified 27th and finished fourth.

-credit: jgr

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About this article
Drivers Denny Hamlin , Joey Logano , Marc Davis , Kyle Busch
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing