There’s a lot of things that can be said about Denny Hamlin’s win Sunday at Phoenix. He ended a 22-race winless streak. He walked away leading the championship standings. It marked his first victory with defending championship crew chief Darian Grubb. But what’s more significant is that he dominated the track that crushed his championship aspirations in 2010.
Hamlin took a real gut shot last season after he lost his chance at a first Sprint Cup title in 2010. Last season he made the Chase for the Sprint Cup as a wild card and ended up ninth in the final championship standings -- a position that 20 other full-time drivers would have gladly traded him for. But when a driver has been so close to earning his first championship that he can almost taste the victory champagne, ninth just doesn’t cut it.
"We just never got going (in 2011)," Hamlin said. "Yeah, maybe there was a hangover effect for the first half of the year -- you can claim that -- but it didn't have anything to do with how bad I ran the last 10 races. We just didn't have it all together.”
Ironically, Hamlin spent time during the offseason around Scottsdale trying to clear his head and get his mind off racing. Then Sunday he returned to the scene where he lost his 33-point lead over Jimmie Johnson with one race to go in 2010 and he left with a win and the points lead, while Johnson is 38th.