Hamlin salvages season with Homestead victory

By Bob Pockrass (SportingNews.com, Nov. 17, 2013) — HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Both Denny Hamlin and crew chief Darian Grubb were going to be miserable going into the offseason.

Granted, they wanted the 2013 season to end. But they also had not accomplished any of their goals. They salvaged something out of the disappointing year Sunday as Hamlin won the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Hamlin had made the Chase and won a race in each of his first seven Sprint Cup seasons. He was battling for the win in March at Auto Club Speedway when an accident with rival Joey Logano resulted in a compression fracture in his lower back.

MORE: Race results | Johnson wins sixth title | Kenseth, Harvick come up short |Homestead photos

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver missed the next four races and never found his groove when he returned.

“It’s a horrible year,” Hamlin said after the win Sunday. “I was going to be counting down the laps.

Denny Hamlin (AP Photo)

“You hate to say you give up, but you kind of concede the fact that we weren’t going to keep the streak alive of a win every year. … As bad as the year is, we can take a little solace in this finish, spend these next two months regrouping, getting our team back in order.”

Hamlin passed Dale Earnhardt Jr. with 24 laps remaining and cruised to the win. While he had been running experimental setups and engines periodically over the last 14 races, Hamlin said he didn’t believe there was anything experimental in his car Sunday and the team used what worked at a Homestead test session two weeks ago.

“We needed to end the season on a good note, so we went with what we knew was proven on the engine side (and) obviously stuck with the setup that we came up with here a few weeks ago.”

His crew chief, Darian Grubb, just tried to put together a setup that would work. Grubb knows how to win at Homestead — he won at the track two years ago in leading Tony Stewart to the 2011 championship. At the time, Grubb knew he wouldn’t be back with Stewart the next year and joined Hamlin and Joe Gibbs Racing last year.

Hamlin and Grubb won five races last season but finished sixth in the Chase. They had struggled most of this year after Hamlin’s injury.

“I lost a lot of sleep last night thinking about that, going into a season where we didn’t have a win,” Grubb said. “So this is a huge weight off my shoulders, just to get Denny back in victory lane, to know we have the good speed, to make Coach (Joe Gibbs) proud back there, that we can do it.

“We got speed out of the car and actually pulled it off and finished it this time, too.”

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