While his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates have been making headlines as of late, Denny Hamlin has quietly worked his way to second in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings with just one race left in the Contender Round.
The driver of the No. 11 Toyota opened the Chase at Chicagoland Speedway with a big victory, all while playing hurt with a torn ACL in his knee.
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Although he has come close multiple times, Hamlin is still searching for his Sprint Cup Series championship. Here are five reasons 2015 is Hamlin's year to take the title:
5. Overcoming adversity Throughout his Sprint Cup career, Denny Hamlin has been forced to overcome adversity. Be it off-track scuffles and spats with fellow competitors, injuries or anything else, Hamlin has weathered the storms to remain a consistent front-runner.
This season, Hamlin sat out the end of the Bristol spring race due to neck spasm, but came back strong afterward. Just as the Chase was set to kick off, Hamlin tore his ACL playing a game of pick-up basketball. The injury never slowed him down, as he opened the Chase with a victory at Chicagoland Speedway.
The adversity Hamlin has faced this year -- and throughout his career -- has made him a stronger person and tougher driver. That should pay off through a tough Chase battle.
4. Crew chief Dave Rogers Prior to the 2015 Sprint Cup season, JGR shuffled the team's crew chiefs, pairing Dave Rogers with Hamlin on the No. 11 team. A calm and calculated crew chief, Rogers has been able to mesh well with Hamlin from the get-go. On his own accord, Rogers has been through a number of Chase battles with Kyle Busch and has those to learn from and improve on.
A successful team leader, Rogers made the call to keep his driver on track late in the going at Chicagoland, and it paid off with a big win. With track position and pit strategy key throughout the Chase, Rogers is one of the best to have atop the pit box.
3. In and out quick Over the last two seasons the JGR pit crews have been the class of the field. From their relentless training to the 'magic' air guns, the JGR pit crews consistently get their drivers off pit road quicker than most. Hamlin's crew, led by Rogers, is one of the best on pit road.
When track position is king and every spot matters, having one of the best over-the-wall crews on pit road is a huge advantage.
2. Flying under the radar After winning the Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway, Hamlin has kind of flown under the radar through the first five races of the post-season. While teammate Matt Kenseth has made headlines for his struggles in the Contender Round, and Kyle Busch was able to avoid disaster at Kansas Speedway, Hamlin quietly came home second during Sunday's race.
Through the first five Chase races Hamlin has one win, three top-two finishes, four top fives and just 30 laps led. If he can keep his head down, focus on the task at hand and survive Talladega, he should be a threat in the title fight at Homestead.
1.You have to lose one -- or two -- before you win one The saying goes you need to lose a championship before you win one. Well, Hamlin has certainly been in a position to win the Sprint Cup championship before, multiple times in fact. However, both times Hamlin was unable to capitalize on the opportunity and take home the championship trophy.
During his first title run in 2010, Hamlin struggled in the penultimate race at Phoenix International Raceway and headed to Homestead on edge. Veterans Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick were able to jump all over the opportunity and played mind games with him. The ruse worked as Hamlin struggled in the season finale, losing the title to Johnson by 39 points after going into the day with a 15-point advantage.
Last season, Hamlin was in the thick of the title fight in the season finale, but a two-tire change on the final stop of the day caused him to slip to seventh when the checkered flag flew. Finishing third of the championship contenders, Hamlin once again watched his title hopes slip away.
Learning from these past experiences, Hamlin certainly knows how to lose a championship, and together with Rogers, his lightening fast pit crew and quick Toyotas, Hamlin is doing what he needs to do to win the title come Homestead. If all goes according to plan, by the end of the night on Nov. 22 Hamlin should be lifting his first Sprint Cup championship trophy.