Denny Hamlin: Why He's the Favorite To Unseat Jimmie Johnson in 2011

Todd JacobsCorrespondent IFebruary 8, 2011

Denny Hamlin is hoping 2011 ends better than 2010.
Denny Hamlin is hoping 2011 ends better than 2010.Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Denny Hamlin and his No. 11 FedEx Toyota team made a valiant run at the NASCAR Sprint Cup title in 2010, but he succumbed to the pressure of the No. 48 Lowe's team with Jimmie Johnson at the wheel. Many are writing off Hamlin and his No.11 team this season, based on reasoning revolving around Hamlin's close run in 2010.

Hamlin Avoids Racing in Offseason to Get Head Straight

Hamlin is showing no signs of depression or dialing it back any in the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. On the contrary, Hamlin took the entire offseason to get his head straight, and he did not enter the cockpit of a race car until late January for the Daytona testing session. 

Once back in the car Hamlin was at the top of the scoring pylon for most of the testing session at Daytona, and looked fresh and ready to make another run for his first NASCAR Sprint Cup title. Hamlin discussed with reporters his philosophy for the 2011 season.

Hamlin Feels it is "Championship or Bust" in 2011

Hamlin was looking forward during the NASCAR Media Tour last week and told the media, when asked, if he was still smoldering over the 2010 NASCAR season.

“It’s always championship or bust,” explained Hamlin. “But, for me, if I don’t win the championship then I’ve took a step back because I finished second in points. If I finish third, how am I going to consider that a successful year? I just took a step back from where I was last year. And, you see over the last four years we’ve jumped three spots in the points every year over these last four years or so."

Hamlin continued, “For me, there’s only one more spot to move up and I’m going to go into this year with a whole lot more knowledge of what I need to do and what I need to work on from this point forward.”

Hamlin's Mentor Joe Gibbs Knows How to Win Titles

Joe Gibbs has won Super Bowl titles and NASCAR championships in his illustrious career as an owner and a head coach. If anyone can focus Denny Hamlin on winning his first NASCAR Sprint Cup title, it is Gibbs. Gibbs is also Hamlin's next door neighbor, which is either a plus or a minus depending on who you talk to.

Gibbs has won titles with Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart, but has yet to win a title with his new young guns. Gibbs's toughest task over the last couple of seasons has been keeping harmony among his young and aggressive drivers. Gibbs's closest shot at a title with his current trio of drivers was last season, when Hamlin led the standings by 15 points going into Homestead and left 39 points to the bad when the final race ended.

Attitude + Great Equipment= A NASCAR Championship

Hamlin has his championship swagger back after his debilitating loss in November. Hamlin's attitude for the 2011 season says it all when assessing his chances. He knows what to do once he makes the Chase and he knows what not to do as well. Hamlin matured with his second place finish in 2010, and now he will put his new found experience to work in 2011.


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