Auto Racing: Without Cup, Denny Hamlin another Mr. Cub
By Tina Akouris firstname.lastname@example.org September 12, 2012 9:04PM
Updated: October 15, 2012 9:45AM
He compared himself to LeBron James, but given Denny Hamlin’s locale and James’ 2012 NBA title, NASCAR’s Sprint Cup points leader would have been better off citing Ernie Banks.
“Stat-wise, I’m as good as any driver out there, but I don’t have a championship,” Hamlin said Wednesday at the House of Blues.
Hamlin was in Chicago with the other 11 qualifiers in the Chase for the Cup, which begins with Sunday’s GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet. Hamlin enters the Chase with 2,012 points, three ahead of five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, three-time champ Tony Stewart and Brad Keselowski.
Hamlin has been in this position before, losing the 2010 title to Johnson after leading in points. Still, this Chase seems different, as Hamlin has a season-high four victories under new crew chief Darian Grubb, who helped Tony Stewart to the Cup championship a year ago.
Stewart ended up firing Grubb, and that’s when Hamlin went to work.
“When Darian was available we were among a handful of teams that wanted to get him, and one of them was going to be Hendrick (Motorsports),” Hamlin said. “I never asked Darian what happened (with Stewart), because it was probably an uncomfortable situation for him.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. confirmed Wednesday that his JR Motorsports Nationwide team has hired Ryan Pemberton, presumably to replace Earnhardt’s uncle, Tony Eury Sr., who was let go last week as the team’s competition director.
Earnhardt said Pemberton started Monday and will work with JR Motorsports’ general manager Kelley Earnhardt Miller.
“He’s going to help Kelley with some ideas on what direction we can go in to get better,” Earnhardt said. “It’s a very challenging position to be in.”
In a question-and-answer session with fans Wednesday at the House of Blues, NASCAR president Mike Helton said there will be a new car for 2013, which will look more like showroom models. Helton also said there are no plans to expand the Chase to more than 12 drivers.