In nine races at Talladega, Hamlin has a history of strong runs and laps led, but he hasn’t reached victory lane. He has three top fives, including a fourth place in the April race.
Hamlin hasn’t scored in a Sprint Cup restrictor-plate race since he won the 2006 Bud Shootout at Daytona International Speedway, producing a great start to what became a spectacular rookie season.
“I think we had a race-winning car here in the spring, and it was frustrating to finish fourth,” Hamlin said. “With the cautions and the restarts at the end, we just lost those couple of spots, and we couldn’t make our way back to the front.
“For as good as we ran all day, it was the cautions that killed us, and we really just needed one more corner, and I think we could have won that race. I couldn’t ask any more from the team. We had a great car. It just came down to where we were when those cautions came out. I know what I need to do this time around.”
It’s a good thing to have a powerful car at Talladega, but most winning drivers put themselves in situations where they also can benefit from luck and circumstance. Working the draft properly over the closing laps and being linked with strong drafting partners are keys to victory.
“You can never expect anything at Talladega other than you are going to need a great car and a good amount of luck,” Hamlin said. “We’ve improved so much here over the years, and we now come to Talladega thinking we can run up front, and our record here shows that we can.
“It’s a matter of getting that strategy just right so when the time comes you know you are ready to go, and we just missed that window last year. If we can keep our car out of the trouble at Talladega, I think we’ll have as good of a chance as anyone to win there.”
Hamlin ran lap for lap with the other major Chase contenders – Johnson and Kevin Harvick – last week at Martinsville before closing with strength and winning the race. His plans for Sunday’s Amp Energy Juice 500 call for the same approach.
“I am doing my best to focus only on what I can do and what this team can do to put ourselves in the best possible position,” Hamlin said. “At Martinsville, I was running right there with the 48 [Johnson] and 29 [Harvick], so I had a pretty good idea of where they were and how they were running. By the time the race was over, I think I knew exactly where we were points wise.
“This weekend will be different, but I know that both of those guys are really good at Talladega, and I expect there will be times when we are running side by side or even working together in the draft. In the end, it’s my job to finish up front, so we’ll approach this weekend like any other – put the best car out there and run our race.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.