On a mission: Denny Hamlin could be the one who stops JJ in 2014
FEB 17, 2014 2:08p ET
Everyone knows that in a professional race car driver's career there can be very high peaks and equally deep lows. Sometimes it even all happens in a single year. That's what No. 11 Denny Hamlin must be feeling right now, but thankfully it's all on the upswing.
He started out 2013 really strong until a back injury from a late race crash all but ended his season. He was out of the car a number of weeks and, even after he came back, still wasn't all that competitive. To be fair, some of those poor runs was Denny "taking one for the team" and trying setups and combinations to hopefully help his teammates in the Chase.
Denny finished strong, though, winning the last race of 2013 at Homestead. His ride back to the top continued the other night with his win in the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona. I have always been a big believer that anytime you can come to Daytona, of all places, and win one of these races that are run leading up to the Daytona 500, it goes a really long way in improving your chances in the 500.
It's the blind obvious, but it builds confidence and momentum, not only within the driver but with the crew chief, team, owner and, naturally, the always important sponsors. I can't say it was a huge surprise to see Denny as strong and competitive as he was Saturday night in the Sprint Unlimited. We know the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas always handle well and are bad fast no matter where we go.
On top of all that, Denny says he is 100 percent healed and actually in the best shape of his career. He is back being comfortable in the race car. I've worked with drivers in the past that had back injuries that were haunting them, and I can tell you there is nothing you can do to make a race car drive well for them.
I just think that Denny is on a mission in 2014 to get back to the top of the hill and be the driver that keeps Jimmie Johnson from winning championship number seven.