Chase Capsules: Denny Hamlin


11 – Denny Hamlin
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
Crew Chief: Darian Grubb
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Best Finish:  2nd (2010)
Chase History: 7th Chase Appearance, Best finish of 2nd in 2010

Regular Season Recap: If this was the old Chase qualifying system (before this season, that is), Hamlin would be iffy at best to make the playoffs. He’s struggled way too much. Sure, he has a win (Talladega), but just six top-5s and 11 top-10s are not the kind of statistics that make Sprint Cup champions. He also missed a race due to an eye issue (California). He’s also been without crew chief Darian Grubb for the last six weeks due to a NASCAR penalty. Hamlin really hasn’t had a prolonged hot streak to date. It’s unlikely he’ll find one in the Chase.

Jerry’s Take: Much like a number of other fellow drivers like Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick, Hamlin is also a championship waiting to happen. But that championship – at least for the driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota – will not come in 2014.

Unless he catches fire early in the first three races, it will not be a surprise to see Hamlin among the first four drivers who are eliminated from further progress in the Chase.

Last season, Hamlin missed the Chase entirely due to the vicious wreck at Fontana that forced him to miss four races. He just hasn’t seemed to be the same in terms of Chase production since finishing second to Jimmie Johnson in 2010. It’s almost as if he has an albatross around his neck that can’t be removed.

While I’d love to see Hamlin go out and dominate in the Chase, there are just too many other good drivers ahead of him to give much hope for Denny’s championship hopes this season.

Chris’s Take: Talladega triumph aside, Hamlin’s had himself an up-and-down season and I can’t help but think we’re in for more of the same in the Chase. If he can have an early “up” day and grab his third Cup win at New Hampshire, he’ll be in the Contender Round, but that may be as far as he gets unless he finds a way to consistently run with the leaders. However, if he can do that, look out for him at Martinsville in the Eliminator Round – a 5th win at the ‘paperclip’ would mean a surprise berth in the Championship.

Tony’s Take: Like the rest of the Joe Gibbs Racing team this year, inconsistency and occasional bad luck has plagued the No. 11 FedEx Toyota team. Hamlin has been better of late, since Daytona in July, but other than Indianapolis hasn’t shown race-winning potential.

I wouldn’t be shocked if he gets knocked out in the Challenger round. I don’t think all three Gibbs cars advance from that, and either Hamlin or Kyle Busch is vulnerable in this first set of races.

Denny Hamlin’s Career Statistics at Chase Tracks
Chicagoland (1.5 mile) – Zero wins, 1 Top-5s, 2 Top-10s in 8 starts
New Hampshire (1 mile) – Two wins, 7 Top-5s, 11 Top-10s in 17 starts
Dover (1 mile) – Zero wins, 3 Top-5s, 6 Top-10s in 17 starts
Kansas (1.5 mile) – One win, 3 Top-5s, 3 Top-10s in 12 starts
Charlotte (1.5 mile) – Zero wins, 4 Top-5s, 10 Top-10s in 18 starts
Talladega (2.66 mile) – One win, 4 Top-5s, 6 Top-10s in 17 starts
Martinsville (half-mile) – Four wins, 9 Top-5s, 13 Top-10s in 17 starts
Texas (1.5-mile) – Two wins, 5 Top-5s, 9 Top-10s in 17 starts
Phoenix (1 mile) – One win, 8 Top-5s, 9 Top-10s in 18 starts
Homestead-Miami (1.5 mile) – Two win, 4 Top-5s, 5 Top-10s in 9 starts

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Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”