Richmond II: Denny Hamlin preview

DENNY HAMLIN There's No Place Like Home HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Sept. 4, 2008) -- No matter the sporting endeavor, everyone knows there's nothing like a home-court or home-field advantage. More often than not, it just seems to help make ...

There's No Place Like Home

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Sept. 4, 2008) -- No matter the sporting endeavor, everyone knows there's nothing like a home-court or home-field advantage. More often than not, it just seems to help make the difference between winning and losing.

Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 18 Farm Bureau Insurance Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), looks to give his sponsor a home-track advantage as it seeks its first victory of the season in Friday night's Emerson Radio 250 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.

With Hamlin behind the wheel of the No. 18 JGR Toyota, Farm Bureau Insurance, which touts Richmond as one of its corporate headquarters, has the odds in its favor on its quest to reach victory lane late Friday night. Hamlin, who hails from Midlothian, Va., is already a three-time winner on the Nationwide Series circuit this season -- the first of which came just last May in his first career victory of any kind at Richmond, his hometown track.

He went on to score Nationwide Series victories at Dover (Del.) International Speedway in June and Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway in July to give him three of JGR's record 15 wins in 27 Nationwide events this season.

Hamlin's victory at Richmond in May finished what he started at his hometown track a year earlier, when he sat on the pole, led the first 41 laps, but then saw his victory bid come to a heartbreaking end when he was involved in an accident. For the young driver who not so long ago was on the other side of the fence watching his NASCAR heroes at the three-quarter-mile, high-banked tri-oval, that maiden victory at Richmond still stands as the biggest win of any kind in his career -- and that includes four wins in 104 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts and seven others in the Nationwide Series.

With that elusive first victory at his hometown track now out of the way for Hamlin, and with the dominating performance still very much underway in Nationwide Series competition this season by JGR's No. 18 and No. 20 teams, Farm Bureau Insurance has to be feeling pretty good about its own chances come Friday night. Farm Bureau's last Nationwide Series appearance, in the July event at Daytona, was its best yet. JGR's Kyle Busch, who's had a series-high seven Nationwide Series wins in 2008, drove the No. 18 Farm Bureau Insurance Toyota to second behind the race-winning Hamlin in JGR's No. 20 entry.

Another one-two finish by JGR Friday night would be just fine by Farm Bureau's 4,200-member agency sales force, which provides auto, home and life insurance to customers and fans throughout the southeast. This time, though, they'll be betting the "farm" that they'll go one better than their last outing with Hamlin in their familiar colors on his home track.

Denny Hamlin -- Driver, No. 18 Farm Bureau Insurance NASCAR Nationwide Series Toyota Camry at Richmond

You got your first-ever win at Richmond in the May Nationwide Series race this year. Can you describe what it meant to win at your hometown track?

"It was unbelievable to get this done in my hometown. That was the biggest win by far in my career so far, including any Cup races. Obviously, we had the dominant car the next night, too, and it didn't pan out, which was disappointing. It meant a lot to finally break through in Richmond, regardless. It's just one of those situations where things worked out, finally, in our favor there. We may not have had the best car that day, but we did when it counted and that's all that matters in the record books."

Was the win in front of the hometown fans even more gratifying because you didn't have the dominant car but still found a way to pull off the win?

"We weren't that good most of the night there in May, but we just kept working on making the car better and better throughout the night. I always said that circumstances were going to have to come our way for us to get a win there, even though they worked the opposite way the very next night. It seems like we never win, whether we have the best car or the worst car. When those guys decided to stay out and not take tires, I knew this was our race to lose. It was really gratifying to get a win in front of the hometown crowd. I could hear them as soon as I took the checkered flag and there was quite the commotion in victory lane, much more than usual. That means more to me than anything anybody could give me or any trophy I could ever have -- the support of the hometown crowd."

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, like we did in the Nationwide Series race in May, it means just a little bit more there than it does anywhere else."

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. 1886: This is a brand new chassis and body that will make its race debut Friday night in the Emerson Radio 250 at Richmond.

-credit: jgr

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Drivers Denny Hamlin , Kyle Busch
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing