Denny Hamlin is optimistic that his form will improve in 2012, with Joe Gibbs Racing having acquired last year's championship winning crew-chief Darian Grubb from Stewart-Haas Racing in the offseason. Hamlin, 31, failed to build on a superb 2010 which saw him take the title battle to the final round and win eight times, with an underwhelming 2011 which saw a solitary win at Michigan and a lowly ninth place in the Chase. However with Grubb as his new crew-chief, Hamlin expects to be battling at the front again in 2012.
“It was big for us because [Grubb] had so many good options and he had an offer from every race team in the garage area. For him to pick me as his driver and continuing to want to be a crew chief, that's a big deal. So, at least it gives you the faith that the guy has got a lot of faith in your talents and that you can bring him another championship.
Grubb was informed by Tony Stewart mid-way through last year hat he would be leaving the team at the end of the season, but under awkward circumstances delivered Stewart his third title. It is this tenacity which Hamlin believes can help return JGR to the top.
“The guy is mentally tough,” Hamlin explained. “When he knows his job is on the line and might not know what he's doing next year, he's still got the focus to bring what he brought to the race track. For me, I think he's one of the most well-respected guys within our garage and that's going to be a key asset to have.
“Everyone knows that the driver and crew chief relationship is very, very important. It's as important as anything as far as being successful so we know it's going to work. It's going to take some time for him to understand what I need in my car and for me to tell him what he needs to hear. That part is going to be a little bit of a transition, but I think right now we have enough motivation and confidence that should carry us until that point happens.”
Hamlin added that Grubb's addition is just the start in the team's reversal of fortunes, with the team's partnership with Michael Waltrip Racing another step in the right direction.
“We feel like we're heading in a good direction, there's no doubt about it. I feel like Toyota is getting stronger than what they were last year, all three teams are on the same engine program, we've got an alliance with Michael Waltrip Racing – there’s a lot of things that are stronger this time around,” Hamlin said.
“And, on top of that my confidence is way higher right now than it was to start 2011. When you know a guy has been as successful as [Grubb], it's hard not to have confidence when you're behind the wheel. All of this stuff has worked out it seems like perfectly for my career. There's a lot of things that's been put into place for me to be successful and I feel like this year is my best opportunity to do that.”
Hamlin, who has won at least one race every year since he started racing in Cup full time in 2006, will be looking to add to his tally in the season ahead.
“I think our team is going to look totally different even though there's just a few changes here and there. It's going to be a total different race team I feel like. I've got two different people speaking in my ear and you've got a lot of energy within the shop. I know you hear that a lot, but we've really gone through some big changes with our team and it's obviously got a lot of people excited.”
“I can't even remember more than about five races last year in the sense of that we were really competitive, had a shot to win and those are the races that get me motivated. The rest of them, I feel like I was just there. I was one of those cars in the middle of the pack and that's not me. I'm too competitive for that, I won't stand for it and I'm not going to have the rest of my career go that way. We're going to go back to the front where we belong.”