Richmond: Denny Hamlin preview

DENNY HAMLIN No Matter the Car or Driver, JGR Is On a Roll HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (April 29, 2008) -- The good news for NASCAR Nationwide Series competitors is that neither Tony Stewart nor Kyle Busch will be piloting the No. 20 Z-Line Designs ...


No Matter the Car or Driver, JGR Is On a Roll

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (April 29, 2008) -- The good news for NASCAR Nationwide Series competitors is that neither Tony Stewart nor Kyle Busch will be piloting the No. 20 Z-Line Designs Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) in Friday night's Lipton Tea 250 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.

The bad news? Denny Hamlin, native of nearby Chesterfield, Va., will be.

There's good reason -- six reasons, in fact -- why the mere sight of either the No. 18 or No. 20 JGR Toyotas on the Nationwide Series entry list might provoke heartburn among the remainder of the field.

In the 10 Nationwide Series races that have been contested so far this season, Hamlin, along with his JGR teammates Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch, have dominated by ringing up a mind-boggling six wins, four poles and leading 1,015 of the 1,665 laps possible (60.9 percent).

The last time a JGR Toyota didn't win a Nationwide Series race was more than a month ago at Nashville (Tenn.) Superspeedway, when Richard Childress Racing's Scott Wimmer was the victor on a day when Busch still had a race-high 125 laps led. Since then, Busch brought home victories for the No. 18 JGR Toyota on back-to-back weeks at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth and Phoenix International Raceway. And over the last two weeks, JGR's Nationwide Series winning streak was kept alive by its No. 20 team. The Dave Rogers-led bunch notched wins in back-to-back races with two different drivers. Busch won at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez road course in Mexico City two weeks ago, and Stewart won last weekend at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.

Hamlin hopes to help Rogers and the No. 20 team become the first in Nationwide Series history to win three races in a row with three different drivers this weekend at Richmond.

As if keeping the JGR win streak alive wasn't enough motivation for Hamlin and the No. 20 Z-Line Designs team, the 27-year old is as thirsty as ever for his first drink of victory champagne at his hometown track. In Nationwide Series competition, he has yet to score a top-five finish at the three-quarter-mile short track and has just three top-10s to his credit in six starts.

It appeared that Hamlin's elusive win might come in this race one year ago when he qualified the No. 20 Z-Line Designs car on the pole and led 20 laps before an accident took him out of contention. He hopes to turn his luck around in front of his hometown fans and bring Z-Line Designs -- the San Ramon, Calif.-based designer and import manufacturer of ready-to-assemble furniture -- along for the ride to victory lane.

Certainly all signs point to Hamlin and the No. 20 team continuing JGR's Nationwide Series dominance by making a "Z-Line" to victory lane in Virginia's Capitol city.

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

You tested at Richmond with the No. 20 Z-Line Designs Nationwide Series Toyota. How did the test go and what did you learn?

"We try to put mostly short tracks on my Nationwide Series schedule when I'm running for Joe Gibbs Racing and I'm really looking forward to getting back behind the wheel of the 20 Z-Line Designs car at my hometown track. The JGR cars have been so good this year. I'm really excited about getting my turn to drive for Dave Rogers and the guys this weekend. During the test, we worked on finding the balance and speed you need to be successful there. It seems like the car takes a while to get going and the tires take a long time to get heated up. It's definitely going to be a track position type of race because the times on a set of tires aren't falling off. We aren't seeing a lot of wear on the tires and you aren't going to have as many opportunities to come onto pit road and fix your car. Qualifying will be very important for Friday night's race and I really think the race will be won from a top-10 starting spot."

How important of a race is Richmond? Do you have to approach racing there like you would anywhere else?

"I know it's not just another race for me. When I go to Richmond, there's definitely a lot more pressure. I'm constantly looking in the stands at the people cheering me on and that means a lot to me. I take a lot of pride in trying to run well there because I spent so many years watching from there. When I do have a good run at Richmond, it means just a little bit more there than it does anywhere else."

When you go to Richmond, do you have to balance seeing family and friends with what your obligations are on the Nationwide and Sprint Cup side?

"Yes. In the past, I really spent a lot of time doing appearances and seeing a lot of people during race week. This year, Kyle Busch and I are going to one of my local tracks, Southside Speedway, to race on Thursday night and have a little bit of fun. We took a little bit of a different approach last year. We cleared the schedule and took the time to relax. When you see everyone and you shake hands and you take care of this person or that person, it takes a little bit of your concentration. So I think taking the approach of relaxing and doing my business there works a little bit better."

You finally found some good luck in your home state of Virginia by winning the Sprint Cup Series race Martinsville in March. Do you hope that breakthrough will lead to things falling your way, finally, at Richmond after being so close before?

"Winning at Martinsville in the Sprint Cup car was great, but winning at Richmond would be even better. I always seem to run well at Richmond in both the Nationwide Series and the Sprint Cup Series. I've led, at times, and have had some bad breaks that have kept us out of victory lane, whether it's getting taken out or having a caution come out at an inopportune time. When we come here, we know we can run in the top-five, but we just need to find what we need to be the dominant car and we haven't quite found that yet."

What's the best way to get around Richmond?

"Richmond is a track where you've got to be really, really careful getting into turn one. I've been bitten many times getting up there, trying to get higher and higher to find grip, and ended up getting in the marbles. It's a track where the groove seems to move up higher and higher every time we go there. I wouldn't be surprised to see that we were literally running right up next to the wall at Richmond. That's just going to make for better racing."

The Car: Chassis No. 2087: This is a brand new race car that saw its first action earlier this season at Phoenix International Raceway (PIR) with Hamlin at the controls. The Chesterfield, Va., native gave No. 2087 a strong debut as he qualified sixth and finished third in the April 11 Bashas' Supermarkets 200 at PIR.

-credit: jgr

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Drivers Tony Stewart , Scott Wimmer , Denny Hamlin , Kyle Busch
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing