NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup Preview: Denny Hamlin

Christopher LeoneSenior Analyst ISeptember 16, 2012

JOLIET, IL - SEPTEMBER 14:  Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, looks on in the garage during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 14, 2012 in Joliet, Illinois.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Every day here at Bleacher Report, we'll be counting down the 12 drivers in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup by posting two driver previews, breaking down how they got in and what they're going to do with their berth. Here's our final preview, which deals with top Chase seed Denny Hamlin.

DENNY HAMLIN, #11 FedEx Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing

CHASE POSITION: 1st, 2012 points (4 wins)

MAKING THE CHASE: Hamlin punched his Chase ticket after holding Jeff Gordon off for the victory on the final lap in Atlanta. His fourth win of the season also ensured him at least a share of the Chase lead, which he currently holds to himself.

LAST 10 RACES: The Race to the Chase proved up and down for Hamlin, who took back-to-back race victories at Bristol and Atlanta after back-to-back DNFs at Pocono and Watkins Glen. In the meantime, he also led double-digit laps in six of 10 races, on the way to posting an average finish of 13.0.

LAST YEAR'S CHASE: Losing the title in 2010 proved especially draining for Hamlin, and he just wasn't himself in last year's Chase. His average finish of 15.7 only improved over the course of the playoffs, as he spent the first half in the 12th and final spot and only got to a high of ninth at Homestead.

AT CHASE TRACKS: Hamlin's average finishes of 6.4 at Martinsville and 8.5 at Loudon suggest that most fantasy owners will want him on their team for those two race weekends. But at two early Chase tracks, Chicago (19.2) and Dover (20.5), Hamlin will need to change his luck if he wants to start off his title hunt on the right foot.

OUTLOOK: Hamlin has two weapons on his side: crew chief Darian Grubb, who won last year's title with Tony Stewart, and a burning desire to make up for throwing away the title at Homestead in 2010. He's confident enough that he won't make the same mistakes as he did two years ago, and that he can trust Grubb to make the right calls in the pits and ensure his confidence during the races. In short, this may just be this year's team to beat for the title.

For more from Christopher Leone, follow @christopherlion on Twitter.