Hamlin Haunted by Bad Luck

Denny Hamlin

Denny Hamlin is currently in last place in the Chase after finishing second in 2010. (Photo: Getty Images)

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Denny Hamlin will look to reverse the runner-up curse when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Dover International Speedway for Sunday’s AAA 400.

Hamlin was dominant last season, leading the series in wins with eight and ultimately finishing second in the Chase for the Sprint Cup behind five-time champion Jimmie Johnson. Two of Hamlin’s wins came in the 10-race playoffs, along with four top fives and seven top-10 finishes.

However, Hamlin became the fifth consecutive championship runner-up to struggle during the following season, continuing the trend set by Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards and Mark Martin. His lone win of this season came in June at Michigan International Speedway.

“We’ve just honestly been stricken by a lot of bad luck,” Hamlin said. “We’ve ran out of fuel, we’ve gotten in wrecks, we’ve cut tires, things like that. We’ve blown engines, we’ve had mechanical parts that have failed, had so many different things have bitten us this year.”

Hamlin managed to sneak into the Chase as one of two wild card entries but has been irrelevant in the first two races, finishing 31st at Chicagoland Speedway and 29th at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

“We’re just kind of falling into that trend at this point, but we’re trying to turn that around and trying to figure out a way to get back to the top five in points,” Hamlin said. “If we can do that, we’re going to be bucking the trend.”

Currently in last place out of the 12 championship contenders, Hamlin plans on enjoying the final eight races and working towards stronger finishes behind the wheel of his No. 11 FedEx Toyota.

“My job to do these next eight races is to go have fun and try to win races,” Hamlin said. “I want to end on a good note and be charging towards the front of the championship point battle by the end of the year.”

Hamlin’s pursuit for a turnaround will begin this weekend at Dover, a mile-long track where he has an average finish of 20.9 in 11 races, with two top fives and four top 10s, but no wins. Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch are the only other Chase contenders that haven’t experienced Victory Lane at the “Monster Mile.” 

Championship leader Tony Stewart’s recent success has Hamlin optimistic about his own chance for improvement after necessary changes are made.

“Any small changes that you make with your race team that improves it, is magnified because the cars are so even now,” Hamlin said. “Tony (Stewart)’s team found something four or five weeks ago. It’s helped them at all these different racetracks and we see the results because of it. They’re just riding that momentum wave right now.”

Hamlin is 66 points behind Stewart and will need to gain momentum of his own if he’s going to make a run at the championship, but the underdog seems content with merely finishing the season on a high note.

“Maybe there’s just not enough races for us,” Hamlin said. “But if there’s not, at least we want to be heading in the right direction into 2012.”

Qualifying for the third race of the Chase begins Saturday at 1:40 p.m. (ET).  Sunday’s AAA 400 will be broadcast on Motor Racing Network starting at 1 p.m.

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