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No guarantee, but confidence aplenty for Hamlin

September 22, 2012, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com



No guarantee, but confidence aplenty for Hamlin
No. 11 driver responds to buzz about Twitter 'prediction' earlier in week

LOUDON, N.H. -- Denny Hamlin has every reason to feel confident at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, given that he's a regular in the top five at the mile-long track, has completed all but two of the 3,868 laps contested here over the course of his Sprint Cup career, and dominated the July event in the Granite State before finishing second. In the wake of a disappointing start to the Chase last weekend, that confidence was expressed via social media.

"[Chicagoland] is 1 week of 10. We will win next week."

--DENNY HAMLIN on Twitter

"This is 1 week of 10," he posted on Twitter hours after running out of fuel on the final lap at Chicagoland Speedway and dropping to 16th place. "We will win next week."

To some, it carried the weight of a called shot; as if Hamlin were Babe Ruth standing in the batter's box at Yankee Stadium, pointing toward the outfield bleachers. There would be plenty of ammunition to such a thing, given that Hamlin led 150 laps in July at the Magic Mile before a miscommunication on a pit stop resulted in a runner-up finish, and then unleashed the fastest lap in opening practice at Loudon. Although he's won only once in New Hampshire -- that victory coming back in 2007 -- his average finish of 8.5 is the best among active drivers on NASCAR's premier series.

Friday, though, it became clear that Hamlin didn't mean for his message to be interpreted quite that strongly.

"Just confident that we could win," he said. "I mean, it's no different than nine Chase tracks that we go to. Other than Dover, where I'm going to be realistic, I feel like I could go win each and every one of them. It was really meant to be nothing more than, 'hey, we'll get 'em next week. We'll win it next week.' I think people are just taking it a little bit further than that, but I'll embrace it and do the best I can. That's all I can do."

He said he's expressed similar confidence heading to Pocono and other tracks where he has historically been strong. "It's no different," he added. "Our history here, given how we ran in the first practice, and hopefully how we'll run [Saturday], I'll expect to win. If I don't win, I feel like something has happened to hamper us."

That's certainly what happened Sunday, when Hamlin's effort in the Chase opener faded when his team didn't get the No. 11 car full of fuel on the final pit stop. Afterward, he said gas man Scott Wood approached him visibly upset.

"It's weird to see a man that size get upset as much as he was," said Hamlin who had been fourth before the final stop. "But for me, it kind of makes you put an arm around him [and say], it's all right, dude. This is just a bump in the road on what is hopefully a championship run."

Friday brought a smaller bump -- a tire-pressure problem in qualifying that left the No. 11 car 32nd on the starting grid. But pole winner Jeff Gordon said everyone was chasing Hamlin's vehicle in race trim, and expected the disadvantage in starting position to be easily overcome given the strength the car showed here in July.

Chase Standings

As of Chicago
Pos.DriverPointsBehind
2.J. Johnson2053-3
3.T. Stewart2048-8
4.D. Hamlin2041-15
5.K. Kahne2041-15

"It's not going to be difficult," Gordon said. "He drove from 16th or something like that to second the last time we were here [after] the last stop. Those guys, they're good. Their car looked really strong. I don't think it's going to be an issue."

Now fourth in points and 15 behind leader Brad Keselowski, Hamlin felt a twinge of frustration every time he caught the highlights of last weekend's race and saw his finishing position -- which he knew was much worse than how his car actually ran. Getting back in the No. 11 Toyota on Friday helped him leave those feelings behind him. He hopes his New Hampshire car this time around is even better than the one that finished second to Kasey Kahne here in July, given that his team didn't get to fine-tune the vehicle then as much as they will this weekend.

All of which speaks to Hamlin's supreme level of confidence -- expressed so succinctly in his Twitter message following the disappointment in the Chicagoland race.

"I don't think it's too bold, because of how he competed here at the race before," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. "I think he had an outstanding race car. Should have won the race, had they made a little different strategy at the end. I can understand the confidence from that statement because of how he ran. So it doesn't surprise me."

Tony Stewart seemed to agree, to a point. "I don't know that it's a driver's job to do that, but it's nice," the reigning Sprint Cup champion said. "He wouldn't say that if he didn't have the confidence to go with it. He doesn't just say stuff like that unless he feels confident about it. We will see what happens. There are 42 other guys that are going to try to keep him from doing that this weekend, though."

Of course, there were dissenters. "I'm going to call his bluff," two-time New Hampshire winner Clint Bowyer said. After speaking with the media Friday, Hamlin sent out another series of tweets saying that he didn't promise anything, but just made a statement. "If each driver in the [Chase] didn't think he could win each week, he would be lacking the confidence that it takes to actually make it happen," he wrote.

Hamlin certainly has that confidence this weekend. "We know that we did have the best car here in July," he said. "We didn't finish it off. But those are mistakes we all learn from. As long as we don't have that little flub again, there's no reason why we still won't be in contention with 50 laps to go again."