[media-credit id=5 align=”alignright” width=”251″][/media-credit]After the Crown Royal presents the Matthew & Daniel Hensen 400 concluded on Saturday night in Richmond I put in a call to my doctor. A checkup wasn’t needed and I wasn’t hurt but I had a request – sign me up for knee surgery.
The hope is that I might hit the lottery or have some stroke of good luck. After all, both Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne had knee surgery in the last year and have had great fortune since then. Hamlin won seven races last season and nearly won the championship. He finished second Saturday night in Richmond, his best finish of the 2011 season.
“It was a good night,” said Hamlin. “We knew pretty early on, the 18 was going to be tough. It’s tough when you share notebooks. You know those guys got exactly what you got. Every trick in the book on short tracks, those guys have it. Kyle has the talent. We knew they were going to be tough to beat.”
Continued Hamlin, “It’s all we had. My plan was to really conserve the first part of the last run and let him go out there and run. I was going to just kind of sit back and wait and save my tires. Just when I tried to make a run, I didn’t have the grip I needed to close in enough.”
Following his impressive performance in 2010, Hamlin’s No. 11 team started on a sour note early in the 2011 season. From blown motors to bad luck, they were buried in the points and were already written off by many. It was a losing the championship hangover.
Except, there’s always Richmond, his home track. If there were something seriously wrong with Hamlin and his team it would show with a poor performance. Just days after denying that his crew chief was going to be replaced, Hamlin went out and won his charity event Thursday night.
Friday he did his best Kyle Busch impression by leading 199 of 251 laps to win the Nationwide Series race. Now two-for-two on the weekend the attention turned toward sweeping the weekend and turning his season around.
Mission accomplished. Hamlin easily drove from his 11th starting position to take the lead on lap 73 from none other than Kahne. He would lead 37 of 400 laps but was no match for his teammate and brought home a much-needed top five.
“It’s my best finish of the year,” said Hamlin about whether he was upset he didn’t win. “I’m ecstatic, to be honest with you. You can’t be mad at second place. Yeah, I want to win, trust me. It burns that you didn’t win. But how we didn’t win I can live with.”
Meanwhile, Kahne finished third, also his best finish of the season. Last week he had surgery to repair his right meniscus after like Hamlin, he hurt himself playing basketball. Many have joked that team owners should begin putting a clause in driver’s contracts about avoiding any other sport.
“My knee feels fine,” said Kahne. “It’s actually a little bit tight, you know, a bit swelled up maybe. But other than that, it feels fine. I never thought about it once throughout the race. So it was more about the car. So if you’re not thinking about it, it’s obviously not hurting.”
Early Saturday night it appeared Kahne was having trouble when overheard on his radio that his foot was slipping off the pedal. Whatever the problem was it quickly worked itself out, Kahne became one of the quickest cars on the track and soon was running in the top five.
As the race neared its conclusion and fuel mileage entered the picture the No. 4 Red Bull team suddenly became a little more animated. A great opportunity had presented itself and they were ready to take advantage of it as they brought home their first top five of the year.
“Well, I’d say at Phoenix we ran top 10 the whole race,” said Kahne. “Here we were more probably closer to fifth, sixth, right in there, third to sixth or seventh. We were a little bit better tonight for sure … it’s kind of been a while since we had a car that could win. At points tonight I felt like we had a shot. Early on, I thought I was driving away. I saw Denny in my mirror. Made me mad for a second. It was a solid night for us.”
Hamlin and Kahne remain winless on the season. After nine races they sit 17th and 18th respectively in points. In order to run however, one must walk or in this case you must limp before you can walk then run and Saturday night was a step in the right direction for both drivers running to victory lane and making the Chase.
Next week the Sprint Cup Series heads to Darlington Raceway where both Hamlin and Kahne have won in the past.