By admin | January 24, 2012
By Richard Allen
There have been some significant changes during this off season for Denny Hamlin and it seems as though each was meant for one specific purpose, to win a Sprint Cup championship. For a driver and team that have come close to a coveted title in previous seasons, the idea of having missed on so many opportunities seems to have spurred action.
Since the end of the 2011 campaign Hamlin has seen his team bring in a new crew chief in the person of Darian Grubb. And at the same time, he removed himself from the busy racing hub in Charlotte to the more relaxed environs of Scottsdale, Arizona to work on his golf game and relax.
Hamlin has qualified for the Chase for the Championship in each of his six fulltime seasons with Joe Gibbs Racing at the sportâ€™s highest level. He scored a 3rd place overall finish in 2006 and a 2nd place overall result in the standings in 2010. Yet, those close calls have resulted in as much disappointment and frustration as satisfaction.
The 2010 runner-up season left a bitter taste for Hamlin as he seemingly had the championship trophy in hand during the penultimate race in Phoenix only to watch Jimmie Johnson capture his fifth consecutive title the next weekend in Homestead-Miami.
Although Hamlin once again qualified for the Chase in 2011, he was never really a serious contender for the championship and ultimately settled for a final result of 9th place in the standings. The driver of the #11 car scored only one win and five top-5s last year in one of his least productive Sprint Cup seasons.
As a result, JGR brought in championship proven crew chief Darian Grubb, who was released by Stewart-Haas Racing at the end of the most recent campaign, to help convert those close calls into titles. That, in turn, has allowed for fresh ideas to be considered by this organization.
Hamlin believes those fresh ideas were badly needed.
During this weekâ€™s Sprint Media Tour time with Joe Gibbs Racing, Hamlin indicated that he and former crew chief Mike Ford were often in agreement in regard to what their cars needed to be competitive but that his former pit boss â€œhad his hands tiedâ€ when it came to instituting new setups.
“I think you need a season of getting your ass kicked for people to wake up and realize that maybe we’re not as good as what we thought we were,” Hamlin declared. “At JGR, we got our tails kicked. Kyle (Busch) won four races, but when the Chase started, we all stunk.”
Also remember that JGR has moved away from building their own engines after numerous failures last year.
As for his cross country move, Hamlin stated on the Speed television network show Race Hub that he needed a change of scenery to recharge his batteries. Spending more time playing golf and enjoying some alone time has allowed the driver to come back with more energy and focus.
Even though many drivers and teams may have relished a season that produced a race win and a spot in the Chase for the Championship, it was not good enough for Denny Hamlin and Joe Gibbs Racing. As a result, changes were made. Only time will tell if those changes will produced the desired result of a Sprint Cup title.
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