Heat is On for Hamlin

Denny Hamlin

"I've always have put myself in pressure situations." (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)

HOMESTEAD, Fla. - Denny Hamlin has one race left to follow through on his prediction that he’ll win the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship in Sunday’s Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Last season when Hamlin won the Homestead season finale he boldly told the world he would be the one to unseat Jimmie Johnson as the Sprint Cup Series championship.

Now 35 races into the 2010 campaign, Hamlin has one shot left at protecting the fifteen point lead over Johnson he brings into Sunday’s race and fulfilling his promise.

The spotlight that has come with having to perform hasn’t impacted Hamlin’s approach and he relishes the pressure-packed situation that faces him on Sunday.

“I’ve always have put myself in pressure situations,” Hamlin said. “When I say I am going to go out and win a race and we go out and do it, that’s performance when pressure is the most.

“When I had to fight for my job in 2005, that was pressure. When Joe Gibbs Racing gave me one race in the Nationwide Series to prove myself, at Darlington of all race tracks, and going out and getting a top-10, that was performing under pressure. I’d rather be under pressure than not.”

Hamlin says the aggressive driving style that has been his trademark throughout the his career will stay intact as he tries to nail down his first NASCAR championship.

“Even as a kid I have always been competitive at everything I have ever done and I have always found ways to win,” Hamlin said. “That’s one thing I am very proud of – I got here by winning, that’s the only way I got here.

“Ever since I was a kid, every level I went to I was able to win. I was able to always make the best of whatever I had.”

Throughout this championship race Hamlin and his crew chief Mike Ford have been the center of attention in a sometimes contentious war of words with fellow championship contenders Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick and their crews.

But Hamlin believes that spotlight has been motivation for his team.

“It’s almost endearing because we say the things we say about each other and our teams because it is so close that you are looking for any advantage and if you can get into a guys’ head, it’s an advantage,” Hamlin said.

“None of them will tell you that they are just going to outperform us. We are going to have to make a mistake, and that’s the way I feel. If we go out there and do what we have done all through the Chase and be consistent, and I go out there and go like I said I’m going to go, we should be fine. It’s just the other circumstances that could take us out.”

Prior to the start of this year’s Chase schedule, Hamlin said he was going to use other playoff appearances and title fight pressures to help him cope – and excel – in this year’s championship run.

It’s come down to the final opportunity to put those lessons to good use and Hamlin is ready.

“I remember those championship battles,” he said. “I’ve been in this situation before and been more nervous because I was fighting for my career then. It’s more relaxing now to be fighting to be at the top of your sport in one given year.

“I’m going to relish that and think about those situations and hopefully use it to win this championship.”

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