LOUDON, NH - JULY 15: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Freight Toyota, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series LENOX Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 15, 2012 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images for NASCAR)
It might not be Babe Ruth's called shot or Joe Namath's Super Bowl III guarantee, but Denny Hamlin's proclamation after the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup opener last week was just as bold.
Hamlin entered the postseason as the top seed based on his four regular-season wins, but when his fuel tank ran dry Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway, he opened the Chase with a 16th-place finish and a thud. The gaffe dropped him into a tie for fourth place in the standings, 15 points behind race winner Brad Keselowski.
But Hamlin, never one to demur in the self-confidence department, issued this post-race tweet: "This is 1 week of 10. We will win next week."
Hamlin will get the chance to make good on his word in Sunday's SYLVANIA 300 (2 p.m. ET, ESPN) at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, site of round 2 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' postseason Chase. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has won at the relatively flat, 1.058-mile track in Loudon once before (in 2007) and has come close thrice before with a trio of runner-up finishes, most recently in July when he led 150 of 301 laps, only to run second to Kasey Kahne.
"We're bringing the best car we have in our stable for it, and obviously feel like it's an opportunity track for us to continue to gain points," Hamlin said. "It's the tracks like Dover which you hope to just maintain and put a band-aid on your program, but I think for the most part, when we get to Loudon, it's the one track I have in my mind that we can win at."
Kahne finished third at Chicago to jump into the tie with Hamlin and Clint Bowyer in the standings. His New Hampshire victory in July, his second of the season, gave him the inside track for a wild-card berth in the Chase, but Kahne still sees room for improvement.
"We won there this year, but I don't think we were the best car," Kahne said. "I think we need to work on the car a little bit. We need to make a few changes to be better than we were, but I think we'll be pretty darn good when we get there and have a nice package to start with and try to go from there. ... To win one (there) this year gives our team a lot of confidence and momentum going back."