Denny Hamlin sees the light at the end of the tunnel

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JULY 22: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Cares Toyota, drives during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on July 22, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

SPEEDWAY, Ind. – Nineteen races into the 2016 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, Joe Gibbs Racing had eight victories to its credit.

This year, it took 19 races for the organization to get its first win. Denny Hamlin finally took a checkered flag last Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and if one race can constitute momentum, Hamlin believes JGR may have found a launching pad at the Magic Mile.

In qualifying trim, Hamlin led Saturday’s opening practice at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, site of Sunday’s Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400 (on NBC at 2:30 p.m. ET).

“Yeah, it looked like all of our cars were pretty fast even besides us today – the 78 (Martin Truex Jr. of affiliated Furniture Rowe Racing) and 20 (Matt Kenseth) and 18 (Kyle Busch),’ Hamlin said.

“So, yeah, I’m pretty confident that we have turned the corner and we’ve just got a little bit more to go.”

Busch has won the last two races at the Brickyard, and one of the lessons Hamlin has learned from his teammate is how important qualifying is at the 2.5-mile track. Accordingly, Hamlin’s team emphasized the time trial package in opening practice.

“They’ve qualified well, and we’ve talked about how hard it was to pass – nobody’s just been able to pass – and, you know, there’s been times where I feel like we were equal to him last year.

“We were second for most of the day – second or third – but just couldn’t overcome the aero side of things… I think that qualifying is a very big key. If you look at the winners here, most of them have started up front, so it’s important to start your day off being fast and being up there in qualifying. So that’s where we focused today.”