Last year marked a tough year for Denny Hamlin as he missed some races due to a back injury. If you add in the addition of some bad luck, there was no doubt that feelings were down.
However, the Joe Gibbs Racing team managed to end off the season on a high with a win in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“First of all, last year was so, so hard on us. I got to tell you, Homestead was a huge deal for us,” team owner Joe Gibbs said on Thursday night. “That was a big win. I think it gave everybody their confidence going into the off-season. Denny has worked extremely hard. I think we were all hungry when the year started. That certainly helps.”
Gibbs said that win also meant a lot due to how much Hamlin and crew chief Darian Grubb sacrificed to help their teammates the final 10 races.
“I think the other thing about Homestead for me, when I watch Denny and Darian go through the year, they sacrifice for our other two cars,” Gibbs explained. “There were times they ran experimental stuff. Denny in the meetings was awesome. He was always trying to help Kyle and Matt. Of course, Kyle had that experience two years ago. We appreciated Toyota, all their hard work.
“But to see these two guys sacrifice through that year, then at the end we kind of said, Okay, we're going to go try and get these last races. To get that last one was a big deal for us.”
So far this year, they’re off to a great start as Hamlin won both the Sprint Unlimited and the second Budweiser Duel, while teammate Matt Kenseth would take home the victory in the first Budweiser Duel.
“We're proud of Toyota and FedEx,” Gibbs commented. “I talked to Mike Glen, Fred Smith. They're thrilled. It was a tough year for us last year, like I said. Our guys worked extremely hard. We're proud of 'em.”
If Hamlin is able to keep the momentum going, JGR would be able to win their first Daytona 500 since winning in 1993 with Dale Jarrett edged out Dale Earnhardt.
“We've come with great cars over the years,” Gibbs commented. “It shows you what a tough race this is, the 500. Like I said, we won once. Probably one of the greatest sporting experiences I've ever had. I was thrilled."