Salvage. Redemption. Struggle. Semblance of hope. Solace of Victory. Remnants of pride and confidence. Finally.
These words peppered news headlines following the last race of the 2013 Sprint Cup season in describing the experience and outcome for driver Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 FedEx team. It had been a tough season for Hamlin and his team, but they couldn’t have asked for a better antidote than the sweetness of Homestead’s victory lane.
“As bad as the year is, we can take a little solace in this finish,” said Hamlin. “It gets your spirits down, but then to come here and back it up with a win is special.”
In just the fifth race of the season at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., Hamlin collided with former teammate Joey Logano and suffered a fractured back that took him out for another four and a half races. The rest of the season looked bleak for Hamlin as he was doled out a mean helping of bad luck, acquiring eight DNFs and sinking to 23rd in points ranking.
“When you’ve had a year like we’ve had, you just wonder ‘Hey, how can I get back to the top five,” Hamlin said. “And when will I ever win a race again?”
With no victories in over a year, this would be the first winless season for Hamlin in his eight-year career at NASCAR’s highest level. Despite what he called the “small victories” he hit with just a few weeks to go, Hamlin was counting down the laps for the disheartening season to come to an end.
But something clicked on that Sunday in Miami.