Raceday: Homestead

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. - Denny Hamlin is going to have a ways to go to top his 26th year on the planet.

With his first two career NEXTEL Cup wins, a lock on Rookie of the Year honors and still an outside shot at the title after qualifying for the "Chase for the NEXTEL Cup," it's been quite a year for the young phenom.

"We’ve definitely exceeded our initial expectations but at the same time what we have achieved has given us the confidence to keep pushing and become a championship caliber team now," said Hamlin, who starts Sunday's season finale Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway from the 33rd position.

"It seemed like everyone was just waiting for us to fall back, whether before the 'Chase' or during it, and show our rookie stripes but we’ve kept plugging away and have a lot to show for our efforts."

It's been a season-long highlight reel for Hamlin, who began the year turning heads when he won the "Bud Shootout" at Daytona.

"There have been a few that I will never forget. Winning the Bud Shootout set the tone for the whole season and gave this FedEx team a huge lift," Hamlin said. "Of course the Pocono races were highlights because it was a total team performance and we just had unbelievable cars."

"Then going to Richmond with the 'Chase' on the line, winning the pole in front of my hometown fans and getting to celebrate making the Chase with them. All of them were highlights and it adds up to quite a season for this whole FedEx Racing team."

Hamlin has been able to stay in the hunt for the title through the first nine races of the "Chase," and comes into the season-ending race tied for third with Kevin Harvick, 90 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson.

It will most certainly take some extraordinary circumstances for Hamlin to pull off winning the title, but the brash freshman still carries a great deal of confidence into the finale.

"Looking back at the first nine races of the 'Chase' we have been pretty good," Hamlin said. "With the exception of some bad luck at Kansas and Charlotte we are running top-ten almost every week and scored three top-fives even."

"Again, it just goes to show that everyone is stepping it up and bringing their best every week and then working through bad luck. It’s incredibly competitive out there but that’s what we live for – to run against the best and to win a championship."

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