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.”

Greg Engle
About Greg Engle 7421 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.