- Last Updated on Tuesday, 15 June 2010 23:44
- Published on Tuesday, 15 June 2010 23:44
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The man who appears to be the answer to Jimmie Johnson’s dominance of the Spring Cup Series just keeps on going. After winning at Pocono for his fourth of the season, and his fourth career win at the Pennsylvania triangle, Denny Hamlin came right back at Michigan Sunday and notched win number five of the season.
With Sunday’s win, the 13th Cup of his career, Hamlin has taken the lead in the seeding in the Chase for the Sprint Cup with 50 all-important bonus points. He sits third in the race for the Chase, 25 points behind teammate Kyle Busch, and 47 points behind points leader Kevin Harvick.
During off-season the talk was of Hamlin really having a breakout season in 2010, and that if there was a driver that could challenge the dominance of Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 crew, it was Denny Hamlin. Then came a torn ACL to his left knee during an off-season pickup basketball game.
Seeing your driver arrive on crutches does not exactly instill confidence, and the initial announcement that Denny was going to postpone surgery until after the end of the season seemed dubious at best. When Jimmie Johnson won four of the season’s first eight races it looked like another year of the same old, same old.
It didn’t take long for Hamlin to realize he had little choice but to go ahead with the surgery ASAP. Casey Mears stood by for a couple of races in case Hamlin needed a relief driver, but it never happened. Jimmie Johnson won his fourth race of the young season at Bristol on March 21.
The following weekend at Martinsville the Joe Gibbs Racing organization and the No. 11 crew in particular, really got their act going. Hamlin won at Martinsville, for his first win of the season, then followed up with wins at Texas, Darlington, Pocono and last weekend at Michigan. Teammate Kyle Busch took the checkered flag at Richmond and Dover. Joe Gibbs Racing has won seven of the last ten races.
“I feel like we’re one of four or five guys that really are legitimate, week in and week out, up front guys,” Hamlin said last weekend from Michigan. “But it’s really tough to stay on top of any sport for the entire year.”
Hamlin came into the Irish Hills, Michigan track last weekend with eight prior starts at Michigan International Speedway. In his prior visits to the two-mile, high-banked track, Hamlin had two top fives and four top tens. Before last Sunday’s race, Hamlin said, “Right now we are being conservative, believe it or not, in our attempt for this season. Hopefully we will peak at the right time. I mean, anyone would say, ‘Yeah you’re peaking right now.’ Really, I feel like the best is yet to come.”
It’s interesting to finally hear someone say that the change from the wing to the spoiler has hurt them, but last weekend at Michigan Mark Martin’s crew chief Alan Gustafson said, “We have lost some speed in our cars since we have gone to the spoiler. But we have been putting a lot of time in the wind tunnel and we are confident we will find it and get back into contention week in and week out.” Last season at this time Martin and Company had posted two wins, while this season has gotten off to a slow start. Martin has yet to win and has posted five top fives, six top tens, and a pole.
NASCAR appears to have finally gotten the message that they need to make the their race car look like something the fans can relate to. Thankfully, they have done away with that gawd awful wing, then last weekend NASCAR Vice President of competition, Robin Pemberton, announced that for 2011 the cars will lose the front end splitter. The new unit will be a less obtrusive front valance that will eliminate the present braces that hold the splitters in place.
“It will be less utilitarian,” Pemberton said. “It’ll have a little more style in it, and I think people will like that. As we work forward, that’s not the last change. We’re looking at some stuff that actually has to coincide with the manufacturers and their introduction of new cars to sell.”