After going winless the first 35 races last year, Denny Hamlin captured the checkered flag in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway to salvage his streak of notching at least one victory in each of his first eight full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series campaigns.
The stakes are higher for the No. 11 FedEx driver in Sunday’s Championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET on ESPN). If Hamlin wins at the 1.5-mile track, or just finishes ahead of Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman, he will capture his first series championship.
Hamlin expressed his confidence in a title race at Homestead on Eliminator 8 Media Day, saying:
“Truth be told, if you ask me ‘you have one race to race heads up for a championship, pick either Martinsville or Homestead?’ I’d almost pick Homestead simply because we’ve just had a lot of success there over these last few years and it’s been a great track for us.”
Hamlin has won at the Miami-area track twice and also claims four top-five and ten top-10 finishes there.
In 2010, Hamlin found himself in a similar situation in the biggest race of his life prior to Sunday – the Ford 400 season finale at Homestead. The Chesterfield, Virginia native entered the race 15 points ahead of Jimmie Johnson for the standings lead. With the championship in his sights, Hamlin failed to stave off Johnson. He qualified 37th and spun on the 25th lap, events that culminated in a 14th-place finish. Johnson took second to win his fifth straight title.
With a new shot at redemption, Hamlin can accomplish two major milestones by winning the championship:
Unable to compete at Auto Club in March due to an injury caused by a piece of metal lodged into the back of his eye, Hamlin can become the first NSCS champion to miss a race since NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty in 1971. Petty missed two races that year: A Daytona qualifying races – which was a points race at that time – and a race in Macon, Georgia’s Middle Georgia Raceway.
Hamlin, 33, can pilot the first Toyota to a NSCS title.