News & Media

Lost season: Hamlin shifting his 2011 goals

October 28, 2011, Mark Aumann,

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Hamlin has readjusted his expectations and goals for the final four races of 2011

Denny Hamlin expected so much more from his 2011 season. Instead, he returns to Martinsville Speedway this weekend hoping to "put a band-aid" over what has become a wound that won't heal.

One win. Four top-five finishes. Twelve top-10s. And even though he made the Chase field, he's been anything but an interested observer, sitting 11th in the standings with four races remaining.

"We just got to manage our expectations from here on out. I've finished outside the top eight in points only once in my career, so that's something I'd like to keep going."


Last fall, Hamlin led the final 30 laps en route to his third consecutive Martinsville triumph and fourth in sixth tries. That put him just six points behind Jimmie Johnson with four races remaining -- and he had the championship within his grasp two races later when a fuel mileage gamble bit him at Phoenix.

But he's 84 points behind Carl Edwards heading into Sunday's Tums Fast Relief 500 -- and instead of talking about championships, the topic at hand is trying to regain some lost momentum and putting the No. 11 Toyota in a position to contend again in 2012.

"My goal is to win a race before the end of the season," Hamlin said. "I feel that would go a really long way with our team and myself and the confidence level, and I feel like we could do that. We have some awesome race tracks ahead of us that we've pretty much all won at."

With finishes of 31st at Chicagoland, 29th at New Hampshire and 18th at Dover, Hamlin's Chase had a nightmare start. Even though things have leveled out since, he realizes the rest of the season is mainly about moving up as much as he can in the points.

"We just got to manage our expectations from here on out," Hamlin said. "I've finished outside the top eight in points only once in my career, so that's something I'd like to keep going."

Having come so close to winning it all last season, Hamlin wishes now that he would have spent more time enjoying the experience rather than feeling the pressure.

"For me, I didn't have as much fun as I felt like I should have had," Hamlin said. "Just looking at the grand scheme of things and thinking about the position I was in, I was just too worried week in and week out about where I [was] going to finish.

"I was always worried about the outcome instead of just worrying about going out there and performing the best I can that particular lap over and over and over. When you worry too much about outcomes and things like that, you don't seem to perform as well because you start racing defensively. Last year, I was somewhat racing defensively at the end when we had a lead."

So what's the biggest issue facing the No. 11 team? Getting better at the intermediate ovals, Hamlin said.

"I feel like we can make up a little bit in some areas that I feel like we're a little bit behind," Hamlin said. "[A win] would help, but we still know the bulk of the race tracks that you have in the Chase and the bulk of them that you run in the course of the season -- those are the tracks that we have to get better at.

"For us, we're heading in the right direction, we know what direction to head -- it's just taking a long time to get there."

Some of that has to do with the way Hamlin's cars are constructed, in his opinion. And that's not something that's going to be repaired overnight.

Out of it

Hamlin's 2011 Chase results

"That's going to take a long time," Hamlin said. "And I'm not going to expect things to happen this week, next week. I'm not going to get discouraged if I go to Homestead and they say, 'This is half of what you want. This is three-quarters of what you want.'

"Because I know when we get to Daytona or the next mile-and-a-half next year -- we're going to have what I want in the cars and hopefully it's going to be the right thing."

That means making slow but steady gains on performance, something Hamlin feels is already taking place.

"We've performed better than what we had at the beginning of the Chase," Hamlin said. "[We're] still definitely not where we need to be. It's going to take time.

"The things we need to change are long-term things. They're not stuff that we can fix right now."

And given that he's been in this position before, who does Hamlin think has the best shot at winning the Cup? For him, it's hard to bet against the current points leader.

"I'm going to take the guy that's got a 14-point lead," Hamlin said. "I think Matt Kenseth has got a really good shot and obviously still does. He's really been on a roll here lately.

"It looks like his performance is really tops of everyone. I'd say Matt, but Carl's obviously got the edge because he's got a gap right now on [Kenseth]."