“Dad, I think we ought to sign this guy.” These words launched a career that produced a third place finish in the driver’s rookie season, top ten finishes in the season standings six more times- including a runner-up finish to Jimmie Johnson in 2010. Denny Hamlin has also earned 25 victories, none more sweet than his victory Sunday at Martinsville Speedway. The win comes on the heels of the announcement that J.D. Gibbs- the man who convinced father Joe to give the Chesterfield, Virginia native a chance- is dealing with brain function issues and cannot be at races at this time.
Impressed by his performance at a late model test over a decade ago, Joe Gibbs put Denny Hamlin in a truck race. That led to an opportunity the Busch Series. After his good work there, JD indicated to his father that Hamlin had earned a spot on the team; and the wins have just kept coming.
Big moments have a way of culling big wins from Denny Hamlin. It wasn’t that many seasons ago, he captured a victory at Pocono after his grandmother passed away; the victory serving as a tribute.
The victory served as an opportunity for Hamlin to express his gratitude for what the Gibbs’ have given him. ” I thank my lucky stars every day that I was able to get in the car that I was able to get into because so many young guys come into this sport and don’t get an opportunity with a good team, and I was put with a great race team, and things worked out for me in my future, and it’s amazing looking back on it how everything played out. But these guys gave me my chance, and J.D. was a big key to that.”
In his own way, Hamlin has given back. A master of Martinsville, with five wins at NASCAR’s shortest track, JGR’s most tenured driver with the team has shared some of his “secret sauce,” and it has paid dividends. Prior to arriving with Gibbs in 2013, Matt Kenseth struggled at the .526 mile paperclip. The 2003 champion credits information from Hamlin and fellow JGR stablemate Kyle Busch for changing his fortunes. Kenseth placed fourth Sunday, Busch stand-in David Ragan finished fifth, and Carl Edwards was a respectable 17th in what was easily the best race the organization has enjoyed all season. Hamlin says ” I’ll always be a total open book to those guys, and they’ve been awesome teammates to me this year. I’m really excited about what Joe has put together, his driver lineup, and the way we’ve worked together so far. It’s really been fun.” The 34-year old recalled his struggles at Charlotte until information gained from Busch turned his fortunes around.
The crew chief for the 11 car, Dave Rogers, underscores the importance of the win. “Yeah, it’s a big deal. We get the monkey off our back early, build some confidence with this race team. It’s a new race, got a lot of new faces on the team, guys from the Truck Series, guys from the XFINITY Series, a bunch of new faces, and Denny and I are rekindling our relationship, so a lot of learning to do, and a win leading into an off weekend where we can talk about it, enjoy it, dissect what we did good, what we did bad and get better, it’s just a great opportunity for this race team right now, and I’m really excited about it.”
Back home, J.D. Gibbs must surely be smiling. Time and time again, Denny Hamlin has rewarded the confidence the coach’s son has placed in him. Just as “cautions breed cautions,” winning one race has way of providing a spring board for another. Don’t be surprised if JD Gibbs has more reasons to smile while addresses his health.