Hamlin: 'I expect to win this weekend'

August, 1, 2009
LONG POND, Pa. -- It wasn't exactly a Joe Namath moment, but Denny Hamlin walked into the Pocono Raceway media center Friday, sat down and calmly made a confident prediction.

"I expect to win this weekend," Hamlin said. "I know my race car here. I think it's as good here as any [car]."

Considering Hamlin hasn't gone to Victory Lane in more than a year, that's quite a gutsy call. But Hamlin has his reasons for optimism.

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Denny Hamlin
AP Photo/Tom StrattmanDenny Hamlin has plenty of time before Sunday's race to contemplate his bold prediction.

This is Hamlin's house. In seven starts on the 2.5-mile triangle, Hamlin has two victories and five top-10s. He swept the two Pocono races as a rookie in 2006.

Hamlin finished sixth or better in his first five Pocono starts, but the last two events here haven't gone his way.

Hamlin finished 23rd in the August 2008 race at Pocono, then ended up 38th in the June race after a fuel pump failure caused him to take the No. 11 Toyota to the garage for repairs early in the race.

Surprisingly, that's one reason he has high expectations for Sunday.

"We spent most of that race as a test session for this one," Hamlin said. "We had our problems early and were 20 laps down when we got back out there. So we just worked on different stuff and fine-tuned for what I thought we needed when we came back."

Hamlin is convinced he learned some things in June that will benefit him Sunday.

"We have a good shot at it because we had an extra test session in the first [Pocono] race this year," Hamlin said.

The extra data will help, but Hamlin always believes he can win at Pocono.

"Yeah, I think so," he said. "Every driver has four or five races every year that they say, 'Man, I can go there and I know I can win. No matter what, I can win those races.'''

Pocono tops that list for Hamlin, who ranks sixth in the Cup standings. He shows up at Pennsylvania, sticks his chest out and has a "beat-me-if-you-can" attitude. The Hendrick Motorsports stable, including Stewart-Haas Racing, are up to the challenge.

Tony Stewart wrecked Saturday in practice and went to a backup car. He'll start in the back, but that didn't stop him from winning at Pocono in June.

Jimmie Johnson topped the final practice session Friday and Mark Martin was third. Martin has six runner-up finishes at Pocono, but is winless here in 45 career starts.

"This has been a really good racetrack for me, performance-wise," Martin said. "It's a surprise that we haven't won because we've run so well so many times. I'm pretty optimistic we'll have a strong effort come Sunday."

Martin is confident, but not like Hamlin, who was 16th in the final practice. Hamlin will be surprised if he doesn't win.

"We're definitely better than what we have been here in the past," Hamlin said. "I think our car is pretty good."

Terry Blount

ESPN Staff Writer



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