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Who's No. 1 heading into the Chase? Here's a big clue!
It took a long time, but it appears Hamlin is finally over the devastation of coming so close in the 2010 Chase, only to let the championship slip through his hands in the last two races. Instead of Hamlin earning his first-ever Chase, the 2010 crown became the fifth in a row for Jimmie Johnson.
The 2012 version of Hamlin is significantly different than the 2010 version. He's more mature, more poised, more patient and particularly more confident, having spent a number of sessions with a sports psychologist following the 2010 meltdown. And now, with no other JGR driver in the Chase this year, Hamlin is significantly more in control of his own destiny now than at any other time—and in any other previous edition of the Chase—in his career.
While previous crew chief Mike Ford (currently working with Aric Almirola) wasn't necessarily at fault for Hamlin's failure in 2010—although some of the blame could be placed upon Hamlin's crew at times for things like poor and slow pit stops—new crew chief Darian Grubb has Hamlin and the No. 11 Toyota crew hitting on all cylinders as they prepare for the Chase.
In other words, it's a great time to be Denny Hamlin right now. He's peaking at the perfect time. But the question still remains: Will Hamlin be able to handle and withstand the invariable pressure in the Chase through the next 10 races better than he did in 2010? Until he proves us wrong—if he does, that is—I say, yes, he's ready to handle things in a much better fashion and is ready to win that long-awaited and overdue first Sprint Cup championship.
Oh yes, one more thing, which presents quite the irony: Hamlin's 32nd birthday just happens to fall on November 18, the date of the final race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway. If there was ever a way to finish off the kind of season he's had thus far, and the kind he hopes to continue having in the upcoming Chase, that would most definitely be the place.