In the Fast Lane motorsports column: Denny Hamlin has grown more comfortable with Talladega Superspeedway during the four seasons he has competed at NASCAR's top level, but his experience last fall could have set him back a little.
Denny Hamlin has grown more comfortable with Talladega Superspeedway during the four seasons he has competed at NASCAR's top level, but his experience last fall could have set him back a little.
Hamlin had a right-front tire go down while he was leading the race, and he crashed hard, eventually finishing 39th.
"It was a big hit - the biggest of my career - and you don't forget about that kind of incident," Hamlin said, "but I certainly won't let it affect me when I go back out there."
Because it was a tire failure and not driver error, Hamlin's confidence remains unshaken.
"It was really out of my hands," he said. "All I could do was hold on, so there wasn't something I could point to and say, 'I should have done this or that differently and it might not have happened.' With as many races as we run in a season and as fast as we put races behind us and move on to the next, there isn't much time to worry about what's happened in the past."
Hamlin's season has been successful but unspectacular. He's fifth in points with an average finish of 11.9 and four top-10s in eight races, including a pair of runner-up finishes.
But he's often overshadowed by his teammates -- highly touted rookie Joey Logano and the maelstrom that is Kyle Busch.
"I think we're happy with how we are running, but we're not content," Hamlin said. "We know we need to improve to keep pace. We've had some good runs and would like a win to show for it, but we've come close and I think it's just a matter of time until we get one."
Feeling at home
Talladega is Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s house.
In 18 starts at NASCAR's largest track, Junior has five wins and 10 top-10 finishes.
How has he had such success?
"I go in with a real good attitude," he said. "When you go into something with a good attitude, you normally get good results. Dad was real good at it (and) we always just put a little extra attention into those races and those race cars that we took to those tracks. We spent a little more time with them and we just take it very, very seriously."
Junior has also learned how to be patient and work the draft.
"I think patience is a big part of being good at Talladega," said Earnhardt Jr.'s crew chief, Tony Eury Jr. "Your driver needs to be able to hang out in the draft when he needs to but also needs to see when things are happening and make a move. Dale knows who he can work with, and that's a big part of it too -- having the right people to draft with."
Best start ever
After finishing a season-best second last weekend, Tony Stewart spoke about this being the best start he's ever had.
Stewart notoriously is a slow starter, usually getting going after Memorial Day.
But a check of his past 10 seasons vs. this one, his first as the owner of his own team, shows that indeed this is his best start in his career.
This year, Stewart has six top-10s and an average finish of 9.5 in the first eight races. His average finish over the first eight races from the last 10 years was 16.6.
His best two starts before this year were in 2006, when he had five top-10s and an average finish of 11.5, and 2008, when he had five top-10s and an average finish of 11.9.
Jane Miller is the Peoria Journal Star motorsports columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.