Feb 14, 2014, 3:42 PM EDT
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.
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
True Americana with a racing twist: Martinsville Speedway once again hosts high school prom after-party
Apr 16, 2014, 8:40 PM EDT
What do Martinsville Speedway, New York’s Central Park and a prom after-party have in common? They’re all one-in-the-same – kind of. For over a decade every April, NASCAR’s oldest racetrack has played host to Martinsville (Va.) High School’s prom after-party.
Apr 16, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT
A few days after a wild Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, 18 car/driver combinations turned laps at Texas Motor Speedway this afternoon.
Apr 16, 2014, 8:09 PM EDT
Sunday’s win in the Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway held special significance for NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Andrew Hines. The three-time NHRA PSM champion earned his 33rd national event win, tying him for third in Pro Stock Motorcycle’s wins list with the late John Myers.
Apr 16, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
Schmidt Peterson driver Luiz Razia posts photo of the Long Beach podium to inspire him to get better.
Apr 16, 2014, 7:29 PM EDT
Marcus Jadotte, one of the leading forces behind NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program over nearly the last decade, announced Wednesday that he’s leaving as the organization’s vice president of public affairs and multicultural development.
Apr 16, 2014, 6:38 PM EDT
Steve Letarte, Ricky Rudd offer insights on Wednesday’s NASCAR AMERICA.
Apr 16, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
Sebastian Saavedra fined $10,000 for yellow-flag infraction in Long Beach.
Apr 16, 2014, 4:40 PM EDT
Bentley confirms Pirelli World Challenge GT program with Dyson Racing, to premiere later in the year.
Apr 16, 2014, 4:09 PM EDT
Jeff Gordon has said several times that if he were to win a fifth Sprint Cup crown, that he likely would retire after that championship season and go out on top. Some of his competitors may be looking forward to that day coming – and some hope it comes as soon as after this season so Gordon won’t continue to confound them in coming seasons as he has for the last 21 seasons. But ever the kind of guy who plays his cards close to the vest, Gordon may be getting ready to throw his fellow drivers and NASCAR fans a curve ball.
Apr 16, 2014, 3:41 PM EDT
NASCAR’s birthplace, the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach, Fla., is going to be – well, streamlined. According to Wednesday’s Daytona Beach News-Journal, the hotel where NASCAR was formed back in 1947, will soon undergo extensive renovations to bring back some of the hotel’s luster of days gone by.
Apr 16, 2014, 3:35 PM EDT
Relive the drama from Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Apr 16, 2014, 3:17 PM EDT
Scott Bloomquist just keeps motoring along in the National Dirt Racing League. Bloomquist is coming off a strong weekend performance where he was runnerup Saturday at Virginia Motor Speedway, and then for an encore won Sunday’s main event at Winchester (Tenn.) Speedway.
Kentucky Speedway June Nationwide Series race to promote program encouraging use of designated drivers
Apr 16, 2014, 2:42 PM EDT
It’s rare that someone is happy to get or pay a traffic ticket from a state trooper. But thousands of NASCAR fans will gladly fork out their hard-earned money for a different kind of ticket, and one that carries the same kind of meaning as many of the tickets that police across the U.S. issue countless times each day.
WATCH LIVE: NASCAR AMERICA at 5 p.m. ET — Rudd, Letarte, Hollywood Armstrong and why good restarts are key
Apr 16, 2014, 2:08 PM EDT
While much of NASCAR may be on its version of spring break, the NASCAR AMERICA team is hard at work to bring you some intriguing content. Rick Allen and Kyle Petty hold down the fort at the anchor desk on Wednesday’s show at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra for your online or mobile device.
Apr 16, 2014, 1:46 PM EDT
NASCAR may have the upcoming weekend off for the Easter holiday, but that doesn’t mean its crack team of statisticians is on vacation like most of the drivers and teams. Even without a race, they’re still pumping out numbers that fans love to devour. So for an appetizer prior to next week’s countdown to the April 26 race at Richmond International Raceway, here’s some food for thought and to munch on
Apr 16, 2014, 12:03 PM EDT
After five winners in last five Chinese Grands Prix, is a sixth possible?
Apr 16, 2014, 8:48 AM EDT
All-electric Garage 56 prototype features another familiar Nissan name in his Le Mans return.
Apr 15, 2014, 8:33 PM EDT
If Sprint Cup drivers’ comments during today’s Goodyear tire test at Kansas Speedway are an indication, we can expect to see track records fall next month on the 1.5-mile oval.
Apr 15, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT
Kyle Petty breaks down critical pit strategies in recent races, and Nate Ryan reports on today’s Goodyear tire test at Kansas.
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