DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Denny Hamlin worked on his tan and his golf game in the off-season. But in the past two months, he went through some other changes.
After struggling mechanically and mentally throughout 2011, Hamlin was back at work turning laps during a three-day test session at Daytona International Speedway.
He was rested, relaxed and eager to take a new approach to an old challenge of creating new speed.
A new crew chief, spotter and engine builder made it easier to forget a disappointing ninth-place finish in the Chase for the Championship.
For more than 20 years Hamlin has been consumed by racing.
This year he decided to change things by spending time in Scottsdale, Ariz. Not only was it far from the race track, it helped his mind purge the successes and failures of the past to focus solely on the upcoming season. And in the process, it gave him purpose for life after racing.
“When racing is done, I’d love to play on the senior’s tour (the PGA Tour’s Champions Tour),” he said. “That’s a realistic goal for me.”
Hamlin lost the Sprint Cup Series championship during the final race of the 2010 season. That defeat seemed to linger throughout the following year, and spread to his teammates – Kyle Busch and Joey Logano.
Joe Gibbs made dramatic changes throughout his organization. Logano and Hamlin have new crew chiefs. All three have new spotters and a new engine supplier.
“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be successful right off the bat,” Hamlin said.
“I think it’s typical from me personally to start off slow. When I say slow –five, six races into the season. But I think that’s going to be a little shorter this year.
“The way we’re doing things in our shop, I feel like we’re heading in the right direction.”