By Michael Guzman (CHICAGO) — Things were looking up for @DennyHamlin seven weeks ago when the Joe Gibbs Racing driver finished third in the Brickyard 400 after leading 18 laps and establishing momentum towards the Chase for the Championship.
But things changed quickly when crew chief Darian Grubb was suspended for the next six races for an unapproved rear firewall on his car that was deemed worthy of a P5 class penalty, the second most severe punishment under NASCAR’s new infraction system.
Hamlin has shown speed at larger tracks with interim crew chief Mike Wheeler but has also been involved in controversy on the short tracks, like Bristol, where he recently tossed his HANS device at @KevinHarvick from the apron. He also struggled mightily at Richmond and Watkins Glen, posting results that simply won’t make the cut once the Chase begins this weekend at Chicago.
Now Hamlin has his crew chief back, something he believes will provide an immediate boost for the entire JGR organization.
“Darian was still in touch with us quite a bit on race weekends and helped us out a lot” Hamlin said. “My communication with (Wheeler) over the past six weeks has been really good and I think he did an amazing job. We really didn’t miss a beat when you look at our performance.”
Now back at full strength, Hamlin has his eyes set on the ultimate prize. But like the rest of the playoff field, Hamlin knows he has to mentally reset for the Chase battle and explained the importance of limiting mistake over the next three months.
“This first round is going to be about mistakes,” Hamlin said. “Don’t make those mistakes and don’t beat yourself because we know that we’re capable of advancing based on the speed that we’ve had. We just can’t beat ourselves.”
Hamlin has already targeted Kansas — the first race of the second round — as a pivotal stop for his team, due to the lack of speed they had back in May.
“That was where we were the slowest in the spring,” Hamlin said. “And I have really struggled there since they repaved the racetrack and had the hard tires. So I think Kansas is as much of a wild card race as Talladega is. Obviously our superspeedway package has been amazing this year but that second bracket right with Kansas and Talladega is going to be the toughest one to get by.”