When The Heck Did Denny Hamlin Start Winning So Much?

It was just last year – May 2009, to be specific – when Denny Hamlin spoke of how aggressive teammate Kyle Busch was, and how it would always result in Busch winning more often than Hamlin.

Hamlin felt it just wasn't in the cards for him to be a frequent visitor to Victory Lane.

As he said at the time:

"It's not my style. My style and Kyle's style are two different things. Through our careers, he's always going to be a guy that has more race wins than I will – but I'm battling for after Race 36, who's on top there. ... If I'm going to win a championship, I need to run top-five every week. I don't need to win every week."

When he spoke those words, Hamlin had only four career Cup victories in three-and-a-half seasons of competition.

Since he made those comments, he's won 12 Cup races (Busch, meanwhile, has only won four races in the same time span).

What the heck? How did Hamlin – who still labels himself as "the consistently top-five guy" – win eight races this season?

If you think about it, what Hamlin has done is statistically amazing: In the second half of 2009, he matched his career wins total in a single season by winning four races. Then this season, he matched his career wins total again by winning eight.

Hamlin showed few signs this was coming. He swept Pocono in his rookie season, then won once in 2007 (New Hampshire) and once in 2008 (Martinsville).

Then, starting at Pocono last year, he went on a tear. He won one race per month in the final four months of the season and followed it up this year with the eight victories.

Reminded of his comments now, how does Hamlin explain what his winning ways?

"I had never seen the speed in us we've had this year at the point that I did that interview last year," he said. "I feel like I found another gear somewhere in the middle-to-end of last season – whether it's in my cars or in myself.

"Ever since then, we've had the speed that Kyle's had."

Hamlin figured if he ever won a championship, it would be with only a handful of wins in a season. Now on the cusp of his first title, Hamlin could claim the 2010 Sprint Cup as this year's top winner.

"I think it's just my mentality and my conservative approach on the racetrack most times that I say I will probably never win as many races as him," Hamlin said, "because he puts himself out there at risk a little bit more than I do.

"Sometimes it will pay off and sometimes you'll finish 30th because of it. I'm just more the consistently top-five guy. That's pretty much been my M.O. for my whole career."

Perhaps. But it sure doesn't seem that way anymore.

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