The Frontstretch: 2013 NASCAR Driver Review: Denny Hamlin by Danny Peters -- Monday January 6, 2014

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2013 NASCAR Driver Review: Denny Hamlin

Danny Peters · Monday January 6, 2014

 

2013 Ride: No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
2013 Primary Sponsor: FedEx
2013 Owner: Joe Gibbs
2013 Crew Chief: Darian Grubb

Stats: 32 starts, 1 win, 4 top-5s, 8 top-10s, 5 poles, 363 laps led.
Best Finish: 1st – Miami.
Average Finish: 21.0.

2013 Team Ranking: 3rd of 3. Denny Hamlin’s worst full season since his first in 2006 makes this one an easy ranking. Hamlin was a distant third behind Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch. Kenseth, who pushed Jimmie Johnson right down to the final laps in the final race, finished second in the overall standings and won a career best seven races. Kyle Busch, meanwhile, won four races and finished fourth overall with a solid, if not spectacular, performance in the Chase.

Denny Hamlin

High Point: In a season of precious few high points for the Chesterfield, Va. native, the sole high point was his morale boosting victory at Miami-Homestead Speedway in the final race of the year. Looking to keep a seven year win streak alive, Hamlin left it until the last possible moment to register his sole victory of the year and salvage something from a forgotten year (see more on this below). Other than the win, Hamlin also picked up five pole positions (a series best) which was impressive given he’d only managed a total of 12 in the seven previous seasons. All told, 2013 is a year Hamlin will be keen to put firmly in the rear-view mirror so in some senses just making it to the checkered flag at Homestead was a high point in itself.

Low Point: This one is easy. Hamlin’s (hugely) low point was breaking his back in a vicious wreck on the final lap of the fifth race of the season at Auto Club Speedway while racing Joey Logano for the win. The L1 compression fracture (or broken vertebrae) Hamlin sustained saw him sit out four full races – the first races he had missed since he started his Cup career at Kansas in October 2005. In addition to the four races he missed, Hamlin ran just the first part of the fifth race at Talladega since his injury before handing over the car to Brian Vickers for the rest of the race.

Summary: Traditionally a slow starter to the season, Hamlin finished 14th in the Daytona 500, third at Phoenix, 15th at Las Vegas and 23rd at Bristol before the key moment in his season arrived at Auto Club Speedway. Following a pit-road fracas at Bristol where Hamlin had essentially dumped Logano, the enmity between the former teammates took a new twist as they battled for the win in the waning laps at ACS. With neither driver willing to give so much as a millimeter it was not a surprise when the two tangled. Logano sailed into the outside wall and finished sixth while Hamlin made brutal contact with an inside wall not equipped with SAFER barriers. The subsequent wreck saw Hamlin sit out four races and a fifth partial race. Returning to the car at Darlington, Hamlin finished a gritty second before backing it up with a fourth place run at Charlotte. And from then on the season went downhill with a string of poor finishes and hard hits. Hamlin’s eighth place finish at Pocono in race 14 was his last top ten until race 31 at Charlotte when he finished ninth. Hamlin picked up another couple top-10 runs at Martinsville (7th) and Texas (7th) before finishing up the season with the big win at Homestead-Miami.

Off-Track News: Hamlin’s big piece of off-track news came just before the start of the season with the birth of his daughter Taylor James (his first child) with longtime girlfriend Jordan Fish.

2014 Outlook: Provided Hamlin is back to full health (and that does remain an “if” at this stage) he should be winning races, making the Chase and challenging for the title. The key, of course, is his back. A fully-fit Hamlin is a serious threat; a partially fit Hamlin a mid-pack runner. Hopefully for Hamlin he’ll be raring and ready to go and in which case, expect a very strong year.

2013 Frontstretch.com Grade: C+. Hamlin gets a C+ simply for managing to run the whole season in great pain – when many said he should get out of the car – and finding a bright spot in the final race of the year with the victory.

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