Hamlin hopes Dover is not his Waterloo again
By: By Jim Pedley, Special to Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service, Superior Telegram
Things seem to be going Denny Hamlin's way as he pursues the first Sprint Cup championship of his career. He's first in points in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, he's on a mini-streak of two top-two finishes, his nearest competitor has imploded and he's had success at many of the remaining nine tracks on the schedule.
If he could do well in Sunday's AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway, he might be able to allow himself to start imagining what he would look like with his arms wrapped around the big silver trophy after the season-ending race in Homestead, Fla.
But based on history, the "if" is sizable as it pertains to Dover.
"We all know how Dover is for me," Hamlin said this week.
Those who love history and statistics all know.
Dover is not, as they say, a Hamlin track. The Monster Mile's high-banked, concrete surface seemingly has scuffed the 29-year-old driver's luck and confidence over the years.
His average finish in nine career starts at Dover is 22.8. That is by far, the worst among the 12 Chase drivers.
Hamlin's only top-five finishes at Dover were in spring races. In fall races — Chase races — he has finished 22nd, 38th, 38th and ninth. He has led just one Dover race. He has two DNFs.
With one race down in the 10-race Chase, with Clint Bowyer whacked back from second to 12th in points by a NASCAR penalty issued on Wednesday and with a 45-point lead over now-second place Kevin Harvick, Hamlin has selected his strategy for this weekend.
"We've just got to minimize a bad day again at Dover," Hamlin said. "That's our goal. You've got to set a number (for finishing) that you're satisfied with, and try to reach that goal at Dover."
And what is that number?
Hamlin didn't say.
He did say, however, the target number was affected by last week's pressure-easing second-place finish in the Chase-opener in New Hampshire.
"The number in which I hope to run just moved up like five spots," he said. "So that's just what we have to do. And it's not that we just run bad at Dover every time, it's just every time I went there, I either wrecked or broke something or ran terrible. So with the exception of the spring, that's about the only good run I've had there, so, yeah, we do shift our expectations based off of this week."
Hamlin also can take relief, of course, in the fact that his 2010 season has been the best of his career.
He has a series-leading six victories and his 11 top-five finishes is second best after Harvick's 12.
"I think the biggest thing," Hamlin said, "is we're competitive everywhere; competitive as in we can win races everywhere. We've shown we can win races and that means we've been up front a lot during the course of this season. For as many wins as we've had, we've had second- and third-place finishes as well. That means we've been up front a lot during the season and that's what it's going to take to win the championship—a low average finish and making sure you have everything in line and prepared in case something does happen."
But then again, this week it's Dover and there is that scary "if."
"Just if we can get past Dover," he said as if he suddenly remembered his past there, "we've got a lot of really good tracks for us."
What: AAA 400
Where: Dover (Del.) International Speedway
When: Sunday, 12:15 p.m.
TV: ESPN, noon
Radio: MRN/Sirius Satellite Ch. 128
Race distance: 400 laps/400 miles
Estimated pit window: 75-80 laps
Qualifying: Friday, 2:10 p.m.
2009 winner: Jimmie Johnson
2009 polesitter: Jimmie Johnson
Points leaders: 1. Denny Hamlin, 5,230; 2. Kevin Harvick, 5,185; 3. Kyle Busch, 5,168; 4. Jeff Gordon, 5,155; 5. Kurt Busch, 5,144; 6. Jimmie Johnson, 5,138; 7. Carl Edwards, 5,135; 8. Greg Biffle, 5,122; 9. Jeff Burton, 5,118; 10. Tony Stewart, 5,106; 11. Matt Kenseth, 5,094; 12. Clint Bowyer, 5,045.