Two races into the season may be too soon to determine whether Denny Hamlin is back to his 2010 championship -contending form.
But one thing is for certain: Hamlin is off to a hot start.
After finishing fourth in the season-opening Daytona 500, Hamlin showed up at Phoenix International Raceway ready to back it up with another solid run.
He did not disappoint.
Hamlin led the final 59 laps en route to his 18th career victory and his first at Phoenix. He now leads the points standings for the first time since November 2010, when he led them heading out of Phoenix and into the final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Sunday's victory was a sort of redemption for Hamlin.
In the fall race at Phoenix in 2010 Hamlin dominated, leading a race-high 190 laps, only to fall to a 12th-place finish after pitting late for fuel in a move that ultimately cost Hamlin his first career Sprint Cup title.
After winning a career-high eight races and finishing a career-best second in the standings in 2010, Hamlin had a hangover year of sorts in 2011. He only won once—at Michigan in June—and ended up ninth in the final standings.
But 2012 is a brand new year, and through two races, it's been a good one for Hamlin.
His No. 11 team made NASCAR's version of a major free agent pickup in the offseason, signing defending champion crew chief Darian Grubb to call the shots on Hamlin's pit box.
At Phoenix, the importance of having Grubb's expertise showed through not just on pit road, but in the garage as well.
"I don't know where this came from," Hamlin said after the race. "We were solidly off in practice. We were off, but we kept getting it better and closer and closer to being competitive, but I had no idea that we were going to fire off like we did today."
The composure demonstrated by the team throughout the weekend, as well as Hamlin's ability to fight through it all, was a luxury Hamlin didn't have last year or even in 2010.
But no matter, he has it now.
Hamlin's on-track swag seems to be back as well. Both at Daytona as well as Phoenix, Hamlin demonstrated that he isn't afraid to mix it up a little bit.
And he certainly isn't afraid to go out and win races.
So is Hamlin back to his 2010 form? If the first two races are any indication, he may be better.
Alas, it is too early to tell.
But one thing we do know after two races is that Denny Hamlin is off to a hot start, and he looks as though he's a force to be reckoned with in 2012.
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