What may seem like a distance memory to fans isn’t for Hamlin who back in 2010 was on the cusp of winning his first NASCAR championship in the Sprint Cup Series.
Racking up eight wins in the season and with just two races remaining Hamlin went into Phoenix with the point’s championship lead over Johnson, while leading over half the laps that day, his hopes of winning came to a crashing halt. A late pit stop that day for fuel and a disappointing finish at the final race of the season saw his chances float away, allowing Jimmie Johnson to win his fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship.
Fast forward a mere four years later to 2014, with a new chase format win and you are in. Hamlin rolled into victory lane early on in the season at Talladega to secure his spot leaving out of Richmond for the first round of the championship, helping Hamlin out after two wrecks at Kentucky and Bristol late in the season dropping him back to 20th in points.
"I feel like this year the pressure on our race team is a lot less than what it was in 2010. The expectations are a lot less from the media and the fans' perspective.” Hamlin tells the Associated Press
While Hamlin doesn’t feel like the pressure is on his team, it’s far from that in the new chase format in which we have seen drivers right on that bubble each week spill over on track incidents to pit road, including Hamlin’s teammate Kenseth getting involved in a shoving match at Charlotte with Brad Keselowski.
Seeking redemption Hamlin came into Phoenix and grabbed the pole for the Quicken Loans 500, while running quietly most of the day allowing Harvick with the most dominate car of the day to win. Hamlin needing to finish 11th or better was able to wheel his FedEx Toyota home to a fifth place finish locking himself into the final round of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship next weekend at Homestead Miami Speedway.
Out of the four remaining drivers eligible to win the Sprint Cup Championship in 2014, Denny Hamlin is the only one with a victory at Homestead winning in 2009 and heading into this weekend as the defending champion of the race from 2013. Meanwhile earlier in the week Bonsai a binturong from Zoo Miami picked Hamlin to win the Sprint Cup Championship. Will he win or will one of the other chase drivers win their first championship this weekend in Miami remains to be seen.
Green flag for the final race of the year from Miami will drop shortly after 3 p.m.