Denny Hamlin: The Guy No One is Talking About at Daytona

Erin ConnollyCorrespondent IJuly 5, 2009

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JULY 04:  Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Office Toyota, leads Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Burger King Chevrolet,  Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 51st Annual Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 4, 2009 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Is Denny Hamlin under appreciated or outshined at Gibbs Racing? 

At the Coke Zero 400 Hamlin begin to look less like the student and more like his old master Tony Stewart.

Last season Hamlin himself questioned if his team deserved to make the Chase. 

However, this season the No. 11 team have found quit consistency. In the media Hamlin has become the forgotten middle child of Gibbs racing. 

The focus has been either on the “hot shot” Kyle Busch or the “protégée” Joey Logano.   

But while they weren’t looking Hamlin settled into a mature contender, which was further illustrated by the No. 11 team’s performance on the 4th of July.

On Lap 2 Hamlin pushed Kurt Busch through the middle to take the lead from Jeff Gordon. 

By Lap 4, Hamlin said good-bye to Busch and took the lead for himself. Hamlin would bring an aggressive driving style normally attributed to fellow Gibbs teammate Kyle Busch throughout the race.

A strong No. 11 car at Daytona is nothing new. Hamlin has lead in 3 out of the 4 last Daytona races, nevertheless till now had never been able to capture a top ten finish.

Fifteen laps in Hamlin would become a little tight dropping down third. 

On Lap 30 an air pressure and wedge adjustment, would give Hamlin the handling he needed to challenge Tony Stewart for the lead. 

Quickly Kyle Busch made a move on the inside. He was meet with a strong block by Hamlin. Kyle Busch’s charge was transformed into a push for Hamlin.

On Lap 40 the six lead cars would pull away from the pack. 

Lap 46 Tony Stewart took the lead away from Hamlin, beginning the dance of Hamlin/Stewart for the lead. The No. 14 team would be prefect on pit road winning the race off every time. 

Stewart would preferentially take the inside lane on re-starts. Hamlin on the outside would quickly take back lead position.

The high –line however, by Lap 109 would hanging Hamlin out to dry. Hamlin would have to race his way to the front, and did he ever.   

With 46 laps to go teammate Logano would give Hamlin some much needed help moving Hamlin up to 7th . 

By Lap 129 Hamlin would be back up to third only -.220 off the leader.

During the second to last pit stop Crew Chief Mike Ford, told Hamlin “this is your race”. The re-start would start with Stewart and Hamlin on the inside, Kyle on the outside.  

Stewart and Hamlin pulled away past Kyle Busch and Jimmy Johnson for first and second. 

One more yellow flag would bring a final re-start with nine to go. Again Stewart would choice the inside, Hamlin had the high line, and the strong 48 car behind him. 

It looked like Mike Ford was right this was going to be Hamlin’s. Then the unthinkable, Jimmy Johnson abandoned Hamlin. 

He would say later that he thought it would give him a better finish. But it felt more like, a teammate move, so much or Stewart not being on the “Hendricks Team”.

Hamlin and Johnson would fall back in line behind Kyle Busch and Stewart. If Hamlin and Busch timed it right they could have made their move and successfully gotten around Stewart. 

Instead they waited too long. By the time they made the move it forced Busch to drive in his mirror. He had to hog the track to win.

Busch would block Stewart hard on the inside. Then quickly cut back across Stewart again, leaving no other option but contact. Basically Kyle Busch put himself in the wall.  

The question that I believe needs to be asked is why Kyle Busch didn’t make the move sooner. 

My hypothesis he was confident in taking Stewart, but didn’t want to give Hamlin a shot. If he passed earlier he would have had to race Hamlin to the end.   

Funny Hamlin’s choices were all about team work, Busch’s, led to 2 wreaked Gibbs cars. 

Maybe it is time to give credit where credit is due, Busch may bring fireworks, but Hamlin is the one that gets the job done.