Denny Hamlin had three wins at this point last season and was
clearly the strongest challenger to Jimmie Johnson’s title.
Joey Logano was inconsistent, but showing enough improvement
that everyone believed he was headed toward Victory Lane. When the
season ended, Hamlin was an eight-time winner who had nearly ended
Johnson’s five-year reign and Logano was predicted to become a
legitimate contender for the Chase for the Sprint Cup
Neither is driving up to expectations.
Nobody, though, is panicking.
”There’s no doubt we’ll be in the Chase,” said Hamlin, who
goes to Kansas Speedway this weekend inside the top 12 for the
first time since the third week of the season.
”It’s just never giving up, man,” said Logano, who grabbed a
season-best third-place finish Sunday night at Charlotte Motor
Their disappointing starts to the season have thrust both
drivers into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. An
unconfirmed report last month said Joe Gibbs Racing was on the
verge of swapping Logano crew chief Greg Zipadelli with Hamlin crew
chief Mike Ford, and even though team president J.D. Gibbs strongly
denied that had ever been discussed, the whispers have
It didn’t matter that Hamlin responded with finishes of second
and sixth immediately after the rumor surfaced, as soon as he
logged a 16th at Dover – a track that has consistently caused him
fits and where his average finish is 20.9 – people again began
clamoring for Ford’s head.
It didn’t help, either, when Logano and Zipadelli bickered over
their in-car radio the next week after Logano failed to race his
way into the All-Star race.
Both drivers continue to insist everything is just fine.
”We’re a couple Yankees from up North, and we yell and scream
at each other,” said Logano, who like Zipadelli hails from
”That’s just how we communicate. I think that’s how everyone
communicates that’s from up there. So that’s not a big deal. I just
saw both of us getting frustrated, and it is what it is. It works
out all right. We don’t hold grudges. We just keep going.”
And Hamlin, who has been with Ford all six years in the Sprint
Cup Series, can’t imagine working with anyone but his current crew
”Everybody thinks that Chad Knaus is the best crew chief in the
garage, if you had him move over to the 11 car, I guarantee you we
run worse for a long while,” Hamlin said. ”It just works for me
right now. We have the same personality. He knows how I work; I
know how he works.
”So I just don’t think that anybody is going to help me right
now. I’ve got to work through all that stuff myself.”
Both drivers are trying to do exactly that right now.
Hamlin was decent during the Coca-Cola 600 despite engine issues
that plagued him over the course of NASCAR’s longest race of the
season. But he was still fourth as the race closed in on the final
100 laps, and Ford called him to pit road to change the carburetor
and correct the engine issue once and for all.
It dropped Hamlin to 27th on the board, but he worked his way
back into the top five in the closing laps, only to run out of gas
and finish 10th.
Logano, meanwhile, was in danger of going a lap down early in
the race, but through pointed and direct conversation with
Zipadelli they were able to make enough adjustments on his Toyota
to work their way through the field.
His final finish was aided by the many cars in front of him that
ran out of gas, but Logano had still hung in for what would have
been a top-10 finish regardless of other drivers’ fuel issues.
Although Logano is currently 23rd in points and Charlotte was
just his second top-10 finish of the season, he and Zipadelli both
know they’ve run better than what the statistics show. A
combination of driver mistakes and really bad luck put them in
their current hole, and a few good finishes might be all it takes
to turn the season around.
”I’m just happy to get (a good finish at Charlotte), as many as
we got taken away this year,” Logano said. ”Hopefully, this will
put some momentum on our side and we have some good race tracks
coming up for us.”
So does Hamlin, including next week’s race at Pocono, where he’s
a four-time winner. He’s not taking it for granted that his
turnaround will continue at Pocono, but he’s excited about the
stretch of summer racing that’s ahead.
”We have great tracks (coming up), but it’s not only that, it’s
hot race tracks,” he said. ”I need hot race tracks to really
perform well. That suits my style. That’s the way I’ve always
raced. … Quick, fast everywhere we go setting track records is
not my style of driving.
”I’m more of a smooth driver who takes care of his equipment
for the end. That doesn’t get rewarded when we’re setting track
Hamlin also praised team owner Joe Gibbs, who he said is working
tirelessly on making the improvements Hamlin and Logano need to get
on pace with teammate Kyle Busch.
Busch has been immune from the struggles the other two have had,
and he’s got two Sprint Cup wins already this season.
”Kyle is running really well with everything right now, so
that’s good from that standpoint,” Hamlin said. ”But we still
have issues within the team that we need to continue to work
through. And we continue to work on them. That’s the good part, is
Joe Gibbs, if I bring an issue up to him, he’s working
”He works until 9 o’clock at night to make sure he resolves
whatever issue I have.”