To be in any kind of sports you must thrive on competition. Denny Hamlin is no different from any other competitor, he loves competition! Since his audition for the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing ride in 2005, the Chesterfield, Va., native has proven his staying power with the team.
That same desire has distinguished Hamlin within the JGR stable, which has now expanded to four cars in-house and a two-car technical alliance with Furniture Row Racing.
I love competition. That’s what I feed off of. I like being in a pressure situation and having to perform. I love it,” says Hamlin.
As far as Hamlin is concerned, the more the merrier.
“I think that we feed off of each other for the most part,” Hamlin said. “Ultimately, it’s a battle, for sure, trying to beat each other — and it’s tough to do.
“I feel, of those four guys (Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr.), I’d put them in the top seven that are in the sport right now. So, it’s going to be tough to beat them week in and week out.”
Hamlin, 36, accomplished the feat three times last year — and nearly won a fourth race at Sonoma, where he finished .625-seconds behind former teammate Tony Stewart. En route to his first Daytona 500 win, Hamlin held off Truex by .010-seconds —the closest finish ever in the Great American Race. Busch, Kevin Harvick and Edwards rounded out the top five.
Hamlin scored his first road course win at Watkins Glen in August and earned his third Richmond victory in September. With Mike Wheeler calling the shots for the No. 11 crew, Hamlin has a renewed determination — no matter what his other teammates might throw at him.
“I’m coming off, statistically, a great season for myself,” Hamlin said. “I’ve got a great crew chief. “Wheels” is the third crew chief I’ve had in the last three years. I’ve got my guy for the long term now — and for as long as that might be — and I expect to win championships in the future. I love the dynamic that we have. We really work well together.”
Last year JGR (12) and Furniture Row combined for 16 of the 36 wins in the Cup Series. Toyota also won its first manufacturer’s title. With the support of Toyota Racing Development, all five teams transferred into the playoffs. For the first time since the current format was introduced in 2014, two Toyotas qualified for the Championship 4 race.
“It’s been proven on and off the race track how well we work together,” Hamlin said. “So I like the dynamic that we have. There’s probably less wins to go around because ultimately we’re all sharing the same stuff. It’s almost kind of like one of those NBA players, like Kevin Durant, sacrificing his own personal MVP-type seasons to go and win a championship with Golden State (Warriors).
“It’s the same kind of thing having some of these great drivers leave some of their personal success on the table for the betterment of the team.”
Hamlin finished sixth in the standings last season after advancing to the Round of 8 in the Chase. Although his contract expires at the end of the 2017 season, JGR has no plans on letting Hamlin go.
“We’ll announce something pretty soon, I believe,” Hamlin said. “I feel like I have all the tools I need to win championships. I have great sponsors, a great manufacturer and team right there in front of me. It’s just a great situation that I was put in in 2005 and to me, I don’t see anything changing.
“I love competition. That’s what I feed off of. I like being in a pressure situation and having to perform. I love it. That’s why I love racing because t’s going to be me against 39 other people. Now that I’ve got teammates that challenge me every single week, it pushes you to be better. I definitely feel now that I’m better than I’ve ever been but now we’re spreading the wealth around a little bit, so it’s a little different.”
So with Hamlin’s expressions of wanting to stay at JGR long term, that leaves one question that will need to be answered this year, who will Joe Gibbs move out in the near future in order to make room for their young gun, Erik Jones?
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!