If Matt Kenseth wins the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup points title, he will owe some thanks to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin. Kenseth has won seven races this season and is locked in a tight battle with Jimmie Johnson for this year’s points championship.
Sidelined for five weeks because of an injury suffered in a March crash, Hamlin failed to qualify for the points race (known as the Chase) for the first time in his career. With dreams of a championship out the window, Hamlin, who won 22 races over the previous seven seasons, volunteered to be the guinea pig for Toyota teams for the remainder of the season.
“We would have to have done some miraculous stuff. It’s hard to miss five races and make the Chase,” Hamlin said. “The drivers are just too good out there. Now, had we won two races like we typically do before the Chase, we might have had a shot.”
Hamlin was in Charleston Monday and Tuesday for The Pro Am Jam, a two-day charity fundraiser at Daniel Island hosted by Hamlin and Mark Bryan of Hootie & the Blowfish. The event, sponsored by the Student Transportation Education Foundation, raised $135,000 last year for various charities.
Only four points separate first-place Johnson and Kenseth with four races remaining.
“This is a really good weekend for Jimmie coming up at Martinsville (Va.). That will be a hurdle for our two guys (Kenseth is second and Kyle Busch third in points),” Hamlin said. “We went short-track testing for them when they were supposed to go to Texas. We felt like we would be better off helping them on a Martinsville setup. We did that last weekend and found something a little better than what we’ve been running. Hopefully, what I came up with is going to make them more competitive than what they were in the spring.”
In the past, Hamlin has shown he can overcome injuries quickly. During the 2010 season he won a race at Martinsville two days after undergoing surgery to repair a knee injury (torn ACL) he suffered playing pickup basketball. But the back injury — an L1 compression fracture — he suffered in March forced a much longer recovery period.
“It’s just not progressing fast enough for me,” he said. “I don’t know whether surgery is an option or what I need to do. I’ll discuss it with the doctors in the next couple of weeks.”
Hamlin would love to see Kenseth, who won the points title in 2003 and is eight years his senior, win another championship.
“Bill Elliott and Matt Kenseth were the guys I always looked up to,” Hamlin said. “Matt hates it when I say that. But he really was the guy I looked up to and for a lot of reasons. I always liked his style. He was quiet but got the job done.”
As much as he wants Kenseth to win this season, Hamlin also has a goal of winning his own championship.
“I’ve got a great ride, a great sponsor,” he said. “Everything is set right for me to win a championship. It’s up to me to do it.”