What a difference a year makes for Hamlin and the No. 11 team

Denny Hamlin outran everybody in his No. 11 Toyota to win the Aaron's 499 Sunday at Talladega, virtually guaranteeing him a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

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Denny Hamlin has always been a guy who gets up or down depending on how the momentum is flowing for him and his race team. So Sunday’s win at Talladega was big for him and that No. 11 team for a lot of reasons.

First off, it’s a win. Naturally that gives any team and its driver a boost. As we’ve said repeatedly since the start of the season, the value of a win is huge. Now they have to be feeling pretty good about being a part of the 2014 Chase, which is something they missed last year in large part because Hamlin suffered a back injury early in the season during an incident at Auto Club Speedway and had to miss a handful of races because of it.

He also missed the race at Auto Club Speedway earlier this year because of a piece of metal that got caught in his eye. Then these last three or four races before Talladega, well, he hadn’t even had a top-10 finish. So for an abundance of reasons they needed that kind of run and win Sunday. It energizes everyone down the line. The crew chief, the crew, the sponsors, everybody gets pumped up and gets to stick their chest out because they were the best at Talladega.

Now he joins his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch, who also has a win. Unfortunately after running so well Sunday, their third teammate, Matt Kenseth, got caught up in one of the many late-race wrecks.

If you stop and think about it, it’s funny the difference a year can make. Last year Denny was hurt early in the season and a non-factor in contending for the championship. Now a win last year at Talladega would have been great because let’s face it — a win is a win is a win — no matter where it’s at. With that said, it just didn’t guarantee you a whole lot when it came time for the Chase last year.

Now a year later, Denny is healthy. He and the No. 11 team have pretty much punched their ticket guaranteeing them a spot in the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase.