Sunday at the Dover International Speedway Denny Hamlin was living proof of the age-old saying, “Good things happen to good people.”
Hamlin wasn’t the driver that ended the day in victory lane, but his performance must have felt like a win for the No. 11 FedEx team. Entering the weekend Hamlin’s struggles at the track known as the Monster Mile were well documented: He only had two top tens, and his average finish was a 25.1.
Hamlin hated Miles the Monster, and Miles hated him.
He’s blown tires while running in the top five, he’s gotten caught up in the Dover big one, and he’s run just terribly without having any problems at all. If there’s one track that could be taken off the Sprint Cup Series schedule, Hamlin would no doubt vote for Dover.
Upon arriving to the track on Friday Hamlin said, “For me the challenge at Dover has been just finishing…this has been our Achilles heel racetrack. This has statistically been our worst racetrack of my career.”
Yet this past weekend would be different for the Virginia native in more ways than one.
Before laying down a single lap in a competitive race, Hamlin’s luck was already changing. Like most around the garage, Hamlin spent Friday night at the Dover Downs Casino right outside the track where he struck big.
He won on the Wheel of Fortune slot machines but wasn’t quick to keep it for himself—he knew people who needed it more than he did, “I’ll donate it to Nashville flood relief. Plus $23,000, so I’ll donate $25,000 for Nashville victims.”
The money was going to help those that had suffered from the deadly flooding that hit Nashville, TN during a weekend earlier this month. Over 30 people lost their lives, with many others losing their homes. Historic landmarks like the Grand Ole Opry House and its hotel were flooded, as was the Tennessee Titans' football stadium.
Governor Phil Bredesen estimates that the damage amounts to millions of dollars. This past weekend some of country music’s biggest stars hosted a concert/telethon, much like what was done after an earthquake struck Haiti, to help raise as much money as they could for relief efforts.
Following competing in the Autism Speaks 400, Sprint Cup drivers Tony Stewart and Clint Bowyer, as well as NASCAR’s President Mike Helton, headed to Tennessee to help answer phones.
Hamlin helped the efforts with his pledge on Friday night, without thinking that it would be good karma. During the Nationwide race on Saturday Hamlin had his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing machine up front and was in contention for the win late in the going before Clint Bowyer retaliated for Hamlin taking him out on a restart.
Despite finishing 12th, it’s not the Nationwide races that he’s had problems with. The big ones on Sunday have been his nemesis, and even coming in with the momentum of three wins already this season, including a sweep of Dover last week, Hamlin wasn’t thinking about going to victory lane. He only had one goal in mind.
“If we can at least finish somewhere in the top 15 we’re going to make big gains from where we usually finish,” he said.
Sunday morning brought a change of heart for the driver. He woke up feeling much more optimistic than he normally was for Dover. A decent day at one of the most physically demanding tracks would be just what the doctor ordered for Hamlin, but a fourth place finish was like hitting the jackpot all over again.
“This is not a great race track for us, so fourth is a good day for our FedEx team,” said Hamlin.
“We just battled back and forth, loose, tight and just could never really get the balance. I just don’t work traffic that well around this racetrack, but we’re going to keep working on it, and it’s a step forward. Our team is just clicking right now.”
With the run Hamlin now moves to fifth in the Sprint Cup points and is one of the early season championship contenders.
“We’re getting good finishes on our worst racetrack, and that’s what we need to do. It was a step in the right direction for sure,” he said.
Who knows, maybe his Denny Hamlin’s giving nature rubbed off on Miles the Monster this week, which decided to give him an unexpected good finish.
Photo credit: Denny Hamlin's Twitter page.