Denny Hamlin has come to New Hampshire before looking for his first win of the season and a boost toward the playoffs. And in fact it has happened here, twice — the most recent being last year.
So Hamlin is not in an unfamiliar spot this weekend as he and a winless No. 11 team trying to get things back on track.
“We’re certainly going to try,” Hamlin said. “This last month has been probably one of the toughest in my 14 years. It’s just been really bad results. Not that we’ve necessarily run bad or had bad speed, just terrible results.”
Sporadic would be the best way to describe Hamlin’s results over the last six races – dating back to Pocono in early June. Aside from crashing at Pocono and Daytona (finishing 35th and 38th, respectively), Hamlin has been 12th, 10th, seventh, and 16th.
Hamlin is ninth in the point standings and 11th on the playoff grid going into the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301.
“Luckily for us, they’re letting 16 guys in, not 10,” Hamlin said of the playoffs. “You can kind of be mediocre and still kind of make it in to the playoffs, so our job is to get good right now. We need to start winning right now, running the top five, leading more laps and get to work on this season and try to make sure that we put ourselves in contention at the end.”
Through 19 races Hamlin’s numbers do read mediocre: no wins, 10 top-10 finishes, six top-fives and 239 laps led. The good news is that Hamlin’s numbers were actually worse at this point last year: no wins, nine top-10 finishes, four top-fives, 176 laps led.
Then came the New Hampshire win, followed by another at Darlington going into the playoffs. And in the postseason Hamlin grabbed two poles and came within one race (Phoenix) of making the final four and racing for the title.
Knowing how situations can change quickly has Hamlin trying to focus forward.
“We know still that it doesn’t matter how many points those other guys accrue [because] if we can win at Texas, Phoenix or Martinsville we’re part of the Championship 4 and could easily knock one of those guys out and all the hard work that they’ve put in throughout the entire year,” he added.