Hamlin Seeks Speedweeks Sweep
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on February 21, 2014 | 12:40 P.M. EST
After winning the Sprint Unlimited and his Duel race, Denny Hamlin is a Daytona 500 win away from sweeping Speedweeks. (Photo: Getty Images)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Two races. Two wins. Two words.
“Still undefeated,’’ Denny Hamlin said on his radio after winning his Budweiser Duel race Thursday night at Daytona International Speedway.
Now, Hamlin looks to become the first driver to win the Sprint Unlimited, his Duel and the Daytona 500 in the same Speedweeks.
Add that he won the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway and Hamlin hasn’t lost a race since November. It’s quite a turnaround from last year when he missed four races because of an injury and had a 16-race stretch without a top-10 finish.
Hamlin has said he couldn’t wait for this season to begin so the talk of last season would stop.
“I think we were all hungry when the year started,’’ car owner Joe Gibbs said.
“Starving,’’ Hamlin interrupted.
Hamlin admits he’ll have to control his aggression in the 500, though.
“The biggest challenge we'll have for myself is keeping the reins back,’’ he said. “It's going to be a much longer race. Obviously, when you go out here and you perform the way we have over these last few races, it's hard not to just want to go out there, charge out there, show that you're still on top and still the best right on lap one.’’
Hamlin’s win in the Duel also completed a sweep for Joe Gibbs Racing. Teammate Matt Kenseth won first Duel, giving JGR a sweep of every Cup race so far at Daytona.
J.D. Gibbs, president of JGR, remains cautious despite his team’s success. The team hasn’t won a Daytona 500 since 1993 - back when Gibbs was a tire changer on Dale Jarrett’s car.
“We won our second year in motorsports,’’ J.D. Gibbs said. “We figured, this is easy. It's a lot harder than it looks.’’
Hamlin is making it look easy.
He’s led on the final lap of both races of Speedweeks he won and pulled away because other behind have been stuck side drafting, which slowed them. Even with such help, Hamlin has shown to have one of the strongest cars this week.
“We had big runs, but never big enough runs to get to Denny,’’ said Jeff Gordon, who finished second to Hamlin in their Duel.
Hamlin’s success doesn’t guarantee anything beyond Speedweeks. Teams know races at Phoenix, Las Vegas, Bristol and Auto Club Speedway will provide a better clue to who is strong this season.
Still, Hamlin is healthy and that’s translating to better performance on the track. He suffered a compression fracture in last-lap crash at Auto Club Speedway dueling Joey Logano for the lead and also suffered from reoccurring back problems. It combined to make last year a challenging season.
Just last week he was asked if he felt like the “weak link” at JGR after Kenseth finished second in the points and Kyle Busch placed fourth.
Hamlin proclaimed: “I’m up to speed.’’
He’s show it on the track so far.
He can’t wait for Sunday and the following weeks.
“The only thing that’s keeping me up at night right now is the anticipation,’’ Hamlin said. “Usually you’re kind of thinking about the grind’s about to start and you’re about to spend a lot of time away from home, but for me I’m one of the few drivers that couldn’t get this off-season over quick enough.’’
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