Richmond Recap: Denny Hamlin clinched a spot in the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship with a ninth-place finish at Richmond International Raceway last Saturday night. Hamlin earned one of the two Chase “wild card” berths, awarded to drivers with the most wins not in the top-10 in points, based on his victory at Michigan in June. The Chase field wasn’t set until the checkered flag flew after 400 laps at Richmond, an event won by Kevin Harvick. It was an eventful evening in Richmond for the #11 FedEx team. A Lap 9 incident in front of Hamlin caused drivers to slow, and he was hit from behind and careened off the wall with significant damage. Hamlin came to pit road so the crew could assess the damage and make repairs. A few more early cautions benefitted the #11 team, giving them opportunities to repair the battered car. Fortunately, the damage wasn’t as severe as first feared, crew chief Mike Ford worked to improve the car’s handling for the remainder of the event, and Hamlin worked through traffic to break into the top-20 by its midpoint. A timely caution during green flag pit stops nearing Lap 300 saw Hamlin restart in sixth, and he maintained a spot in the top-10 for the final run to the finish line. Hamlin will begin the Chase tied for ninth in the standings, 12 points behind leader — and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate — Kyle Busch and Harvick.
Chicagoland Preview: Denny Hamlin and the #11 FedEx Toyota team look to build on three-consecutive top-10 finishes as the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup kicks off Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway. Hamlin finished the regular season 12th in points and earned a Chase wild card berth. This is the first year of the wild card format in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and the first time the 1.5-mile facility in Joliet, Ill., is hosting a Chase race. Hamlin owns two-straight top-10 finishes at Chicago heading into this weekend, finishing eighth in 2010 and a career-best fifth in 2009 — both July events. The 30-year-old Virginia native has made the Chase in each of his first six full seasons in Sprint Cup competition, and finished runner-up to Jimmie Johnson one year ago. Hamlin has completed all but four laps (1,384 of 1,388) in five previous starts at Chicago, and has started in the top-10 three times.
Race Series Date Start Finish Laps (Led)
Lifelock.com 400 Sprint Cup July 10, 2010 17 8 267/267
Lifelock.com 400 Sprint Cup July 11, 2009 4 5 267/267
Lifelock.com 400 Sprint Cup July 12, 2008 7 40 263/267
USG Sheetrock 400 Nextel Cup July 15, 2007 13 17 267/267
USG Sheetrock 400 Nextel Cup July 9, 2006 7 14 270/270
Averages/Totals 9.6 16.8 99.7% 0
FedEx Office – Closest to Chicagoland Speedway: 2199 State Rte 59, Plainfield, IL 60586, (815) 439-8490
Southern California Market Along for the Ride in Chicago: The FedEx Ground Southern California district will be recognized for its safety performance with the “SCAL” code letters on the b-post of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.
HAMLIN CONVERSATION – Chicagoland Speedway:
What are your thoughts heading into this year’s Chase?
“There’s only one place to go from where we’re at right now, and that’s forward. We’re very fortunate to be here, with the tough season that we’ve had, and the ups and downs. It’s a second lease on life for us and our season. Obviously we’re coming into the Chase now with three consecutive top 10s, so we’ve got some momentum. Who knows what’s going to happen next week. I think that track position is a little bit more important this year than it was last year. It’s just a steadily evolving ‑‑ these cars, we’re getting them so good now that everyone is so equal. I think that the pit crews and the crew chief have bigger roles in this year’s Chase than what they did in years past. So it’s not all about having the fastest car and the best driver. There’s a big strategy part that plays out in each and every race. It seems like it’s happening more this year than what it has in years past.”
What are your thoughts on racing at Chicagoland?
“It’s relatively flat and it seems to have lost a lot of grip there over the years for whatever reason. I like the racing at Chicago because you can move around, from the wall to the line and back, to find a place where your car is working. Any of the drivers will tell you they really like being able to search for that line to find that place where you can pass and make your car work. It will be different having the race during the day, later in the year, for sure.”