Skip to content

Healed and stronger, Denny Hamlin ready to pick up in 2014 where he left off at Homestead

Feb 14, 2014, 3:42 PM EDT

AAA 400 - Practice Getty Images

When the green flag drops to start the 56th Daytona 500 on Feb. 23, it’ll be 98 days and 290 miles between races for Denny Hamlin.

But even with the time lapse and the distance between Hamlin’s 2013 season-ending win at Homestead Miami Speedway and the 2014 Sprint Cup season opener at Daytona International Speedway, the Virginia native still feels like it was just yesterday that he took home the checkered flag.

And even with the layoff, Hamlin still feels like he has the best momentum of pretty much any fellow competitor coming into this year’s 500, based upon how he ended the most difficult year of his career at Homestead.

“Homestead, for me, made me believe that it’s possible, that if I get back healthy, this is the kind of results we can expect and this is how I should expect to run,” Hamlin told MotorSportsTalk. “So, not that Homestead made me change how hard I worked in the gym this off-season, but it definitely motivated me to know that if I’m feeling good, I’m going to be running good.”

There’s no denying how difficult and frustrating last season was for Hamlin. He was in the worst wreck of his career, forced to miss the next four races as a result of the back injury he sustained in a head-on crash into a unpadded retaining wall at Auto Club Speedway last March.

“It’s a dead year in a lot of ways,” Hamlin said.

To say Hamlin is more cerebral coming into 2014 is not a stretch. Up until last season, he relied more so on his talent to lead him behind the wheel. But now, he’s much more of a thinking man’s driver.

“What I take from it the most, I would say, would be just the appreciation of when you do run well,” he said. “I took for granted just making the Chase every single year and winning multiple races every year. Just like it was easy, really didn’t have to prepare for it.  I just showed up and we did it.

“With the competition and how we ran at the end of last year, you’ve got to think about preparing for more weeks and preparing to be good, you can’t just rely on talent to do it. “It’s looking over what you struggled with last time. It’s all about debriefing and figuring out in your meeting how can you get better? Not just chalking it up, ‘Oh, it’s just a bad weekend. We’ll rebound next weekend.’ No, why? Why did you struggle? How can you get better?”

Just putting the pedal to the metal won’t get it done anymore, Hamlin acknowledges. And what’s brought about the biggest change in him has nothing to do with Denny the race car driver, but more so Denny the man.

“I had a daughter, that helped a lot,” Hamlin said. “One thing’s for sure, as crappy as my weekends were week in and week out, it lasted as long as the plane ride home. That helped a ton.

“Those two events, having a daughter and having to sit out a few races, made me probably change my outlook more than anything has in the eight years that I’ve been in the Cup series on getting through those bad weeks and getting to the good ones and hopefully seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Those two things have changed the way I think about my job and what I have to do and hopefully it’s all for the good and shows up in 2014.”

Hamlin ultimately finished 2013 in 23rd place, which in and of itself is pretty significant. Sure, it was the worst finish of his Sprint Cup career, but he still managed to do so in just 32 races, compiling the win at Homestead, four top-5 and eight top-10 finishes.

By comparison, Hamlin finished higher than eight other full-time Cup competitors – including Casey Mears, Talladega spring winner David Ragan and Danica Patrick – in less races.

There were a number of critics that implored Hamlin to sit out the rest of the season and recuperate from the serious compression fracture he suffered at Fontana, that he needed complete rest and he was in effect hurting both himself and his team by playing hurt.

To his credit, Hamlin turned a deaf ear to the naysayers. And while admittedly his performance suffered, particularly in the middle of the season, he persevered and tuned out both his critics and the pain.

But no medicine could have made Hamlin feel better than the win at Homestead. Sure, his accomplishment was overshadowed by Jimmie Johnson winning his sixth Sprint Cup championship the same day, but Hamlin got exactly the kind of dose he needed: to go out a winner and build upon that momentum going into 2014.

“As the season got further towards the end, I started feeling better and better, and our performance just really started going with it,” he said. “Hopefully, my results (in 2014) go with all the hard work I’ve put in because I’ve done everything that I can to make sure that I’m well for this year. I don’t want to be the weak link, like I was during the summer, I feel like, for our team.”

So with the season opener now less than 10 days away, how is Hamlin feeling?

“I haven’t had anything, really,” he said when asked if he’s had any lingering pain. “Everything’s been good. I just feel so much stronger than I have been, so it shouldn’t be an issue at all. I think that really everything’s roses from here on out and we’ll see how it goes.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Latest Posts
  1. Road America adds new video boards, makes further track investments

    May 4, 2015, 5:18 PM EDT

    Photo: Road America Photo: Road America

    Road America invests millions into some track upgrades for 2015.

  2. Olympic gold medalist Nastia Liukin named grand marshal for 2015 Indianapolis 500

    May 4, 2015, 2:18 PM EDT

    Photo: IMS Photo: IMS

    Nastia Liukin named grand marshal for this year’s Indianapolis 500.

  3. Tequila Patron ESM makes its Ligier JS P2 Honda race debut in Spa (VIDEOS)

    May 4, 2015, 1:33 PM EDT

    Photo: Tequila Patron ESM Photo: Tequila Patron ESM

    Videos from the debut of the new Ligier JS P2 Hondas for Tequila Patron ESM at Spa-Francorchamps this weekend.

  4. Andretti, Honda open strongly on Indy 500 opening day

    May 4, 2015, 11:35 AM EDT

    Photo: Honda Photo: Honda

    Early days yet, but seems as though Andretti Autosport is starting the month of May out on the right foot.

  5. Westbrook, Valiante score TUDOR win in Monterey

    May 4, 2015, 11:24 AM EDT

    TUDORmrlswin Getty Images

    The No. 90 Corvette DP pairing ends on top in Monterey.

  6. Montoya fastest on opening day of Indianapolis 500 practice

    May 3, 2015, 8:42 PM EDT

    Photo: IMS Photography Photo: IMS Photography

    Day one of the month of May is in the books at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

  7. Iranian government planning to build Formula 1 circuit

    May 3, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT

    AUTO-PRIX-BHR-F1 Getty Images

    Could we see the Iranian Grand Prix join the F1 calendar in years to come?

  8. Chester confident Lotus can compete with Red Bull

    May 3, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain Getty Images

    Lotus technical director Nick Chester expresses his confidence in the upcoming upgrade package for the E23 Hybrid car.

  9. A handful of new drivers, liveries make first outing for Indy 500 practice (PHOTOS)

    May 3, 2015, 2:11 PM EDT

    Mann and Daly. Photo: INDYCAR Mann and Daly. Photo: INDYCAR

    A run through of new driver firesuits and liveries thus far on the first day of practice for the Indianapolis 500.

  10. Di Resta, Wehrlein score podiums in opening DTM weekend

    May 3, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT

    DTM German Touring Car Hockenheim - Qualifying Getty Images

    Ex-Force India driver di Resta picks up his first podium finish since returning to DTM in 2014.

  11. MotoGP: Lorenzo claims first win of 2015 at Spanish GP

    May 3, 2015, 12:45 PM EDT

    Spain Motorcycle Grand Prix AP

    Spanish rider wins on home soil as Valentino Rossi scores his 200th podium finish.

  12. Conor Daly’s Smithfield Foods “Fueled by Bacon” special revealed at IMS

    May 3, 2015, 12:26 PM EDT

    Photo: Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Photo: Schmidt Peterson Motorsports

    Conor Daly’s “Fueled by Bacon” No. 43 Smithfield Foods Honda is revealed.

  13. WEC: Hulkenberg impresses on debut, finishing sixth

    May 3, 2015, 11:30 AM EDT

    © Porsche AG © Porsche AG

    The no. 19 crew fights back at Spa to finish sixth overall after six hours of racing.

  14. Maldonado reflects on complicated start to 2015 F1 season

    May 3, 2015, 10:15 AM EDT

    AUTO-PRIX-F1-ESP-TEST Getty Images

    Venezuelan driver returns to the site of his only grand prix victory next weekend.

  15. Sgt. Liam Dwyer wins Continental Tire race with man who saved his life watching from pits

    May 2, 2015, 8:57 PM EDT

    Dwyer-small

    Last-lap pass by co-driver Andrew Carbonell allows Sgt. Liam Dwyer to celebrate win with Sgt. Aaron Denning, the man who saved his life.

  16. Ricciardo relishing buzz of Spanish GP as F1 hits Europe

    May 2, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain Getty Images

    Red Bull driver speaks about the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, which will play host to the Spanish Grand Prix next weekend.

  17. WEC: Audi no. 7 victorious again, defeating Porsche at Spa

    May 2, 2015, 3:31 PM EDT

    © FIA WEC © FIA WEC

    Benoit Treluyer, Marcel Fassler and Andre Lotterer claim their second win of the WEC season at Spa.