Season Review: Denny Hamlin
By: Ricky Hamber on November 27, 2012 | 9:00 A.M. EST
Denny Hamlin finished sixth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings. (Photo: Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin bounced back from a disappointing 2011 season and experienced a great deal of success during his 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series campaign.
After underachieving last year, the No. 11 FedEx team was given a boost during the offseason when Joe Gibbs Racing signed crew chief Darian Grubb to replace Mike Ford. Grubb was coming off an impressive run with driver Tony Stewart at Stewart-Haas Racing, which included winning five of the 10 Chase races en route to capturing the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title.
"We brought Darian over and it got a lot of guys pumped up,” Hamlin said. “I think we were just in need of a new face to get the team's morale up. Any change was going to be a good change and we got one of the best in the garage making calls for us this year. Now it's just a matter of executing."
At Daytona International Speedway, it was quickly apparent that Hamlin and Grubb would be a good match. The team started the Daytona 500 from the 31st position but fought back to lead 57 laps and finish fourth.
The following week, on March 4th, the duo reached Victory Lane at Phoenix International Raceway after just two races together. It was the earliest that Hamlin had won a Cup race in his previous six full-time seasons and the victory lifted him into the points lead, by six over second-place Greg Biffle.
“He made me a winner today,” Hamlin said of Grubb. “We’ve never been in this position this early in the season. We’ve always struggled, always taken five or six races before we hit our stride … We knew we were going to have a rebound year and I told everyone we were. You’ve got to prove it, go out and win these races. This is a great step in the right direction.”
A few weeks later at Auto Club Speedway, Hamlin earned his first pole of the season and 10th of his career by turning in a lap time of 38.626 seconds at 186.403 mph.
His second win of the season came in April at Kansas Speedway, after holding off a furious charge by Martin Truex Jr. in the closing laps to take the checkered flag. With the victory, Hamlin had already surpassed his 2011 win total of one.
On June 30th, Hamlin signed a new contract with JGR which will keep him in the No. 11 Toyota beyond the end of his current deal.
"Happy to know where my future is," Hamlin posted on Twitter. "Excited for tonight and beyond with my team."
That night, Hamlin started third and finished third in the event at Kentucky Speedway. However, he struggled with chronic back issues and pointed to the rough and bumpy track surface as the culprit for aggravating the problems.
“The next day it just got real tight by the end of the day, and then I sat down for dinner and couldn’t get up", Hamlin said. “I’ve had a history of back spasms now for probably four years, and it just flared up again. This is about as bad as it was at its worst in 2008. I’m just now starting to get mobile again and get around.”
In July at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Hamlin and Grubb had a miscue that may have cost them a victory. They had the strongest car in the race and Hamlin led 150 laps, but fell back to 13th on the final pit stop after a call for four tires instead of two. He still made a hard charge back toward the front of the field but was forced to settle for second behind race winner Kasey Kahne.
“You're going to have days like this," Hamlin said. "It's part of racing. That's why it's such a team sport. It's the pit crew, the driver, the car, the crew chief, all those things put together. We just had a slight miscommunication, that one little mistake will magnify and take a win away from you. Darian has won me a couple races this year, more than he's taken away from me.”
At the next stop on the schedule, Hamlin rebounded by scoring his first career Indianapolis Motor Speedway pole award with a lap time of 49.244 at 182.763 mph. He finished sixth in the race.
As the regular season was winding down, he captured back-to-back victories at Bristol Motor Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The win at Bristol was a milestone for both Hamlin and his team. He became the 35th driver to record at least 20 career wins, while the No. 11 car reached 200 victories.
"We've been thinking about it for a long time," he said. "It's big because it's my 20th and the 200th for the (No. 11) car. Who knows where it ends, but this is a number that been big in NASCAR history.”
Hamlin entered the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup as the number one seed. In the second event of the 10-race playoffs, Hamlin was able to redeem himself at New Hampshire by reaching Victory Lane for the fifth and final time of the season.
"You don't want to sound too cocky but I knew what we were capable of," Hamlin said. "Our car was extremely strong and I have a really good knack for the racetrack and the two together with a crew chief like Darian, it's a winning combination."
The following week at Dover International Speedway, Hamlin claimed his third pole of the year with a lap time of 22.599 at 159.299 mph. He went on to finish eighth in the race.
However, with two straight disappointing finishes of 33rd at Martinsville Speedway and 20th at Texas Motor Speedway, his championship hopes were over.
Hamlin finished second at Phoenix in the penultimate race of the season and 24th in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
He finished sixth in the final standings, 71 points behind champion Brad Keselowski.
It was an overall successful year, with a total of five wins, 14 top fives, 17 top 10s and three poles.
The 32-year-old is excited about 2013 for many reasons, as he will become a father for the first time in January. In August, Hamlin confirmed that he and girlfriend Jordan Fish are expecting a child.
"I look forward to being a dad," he expressed.
2012 Top 12 Season Reviews
1. Brad Keselowski
2. Clint Bowyer
3. Jimmie Johnson
4. Kasey Kahne
5. Greg Biffle
6. Denny Hamlin
7. Matt Kenseth
8. Kevin Harvick
9. Tony Stewart
10. Jeff Gordon
11. Martin Truex Jr.
12. Dale Earnhardt Jr.