NASCAR

Hamlin, team adjust to changes

Mark Martin, Denny Hamlin
Mark Martin (left) filled in for Denny Hamlin last weekend.
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Jeff Hammond

Jeff Hammond is a former NASCAR crew chief who led Darrell Waltrip to two of his three Sprint Cup championships. The duo also teamed up to win the 1989 Daytona 500. Prior to that, Hammond was the jackman for Cale Yarborough for all three of his Cup championships. He has 43 Sprint Cup wins as a crew chief. Follow him on Twitter.

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For Denny Hamlin and his team, it has to be frustrating to have different drivers in this stretch of NASCAR Sprint Cup races while the driver is sidelined healing from a back injury. 

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With Denny you have a driver that is hurt but isn’t hurt. Let me explain. Having a driver that is in the hospital or hurting so bad that he has to be at home in bed is one thing. To have a driver that can come to the racetrack, sit on the pit box the entire race and have input on some of the decisions that are being made, yet still can’t get behind the wheel of his car, probably has to hurt worse than being laid up in traction somewhere.

Obviously, the will is there to get behind the wheel. Denny would love to drive. You can definitely see it and hear it in his voice, but the doctors say no. Those doctors are looking at the big picture and what’s best for Denny in the long haul. Despite how frustrating it is, Denny has to respect that.

For the race team, it’s nothing short of a bad dream. They tested all winter and raced the first five races with their driver, all to see it come to a screeching back-injuring halt at Fontana.

Adding insult to literally injury, they are watching the possibility of their championship season slip through their fingers with 30 races still to go. It’s not totally over, but it sure is going to be a steep climb once Denny gets healthy and back behind the wheel.

This just wasn’t what the team had dreamed the season would be like back in December and January.

IT ADDS UP

Where did your favorite driver finish in the 2013 final standings?

It’s going to be hard for crew chief Darian Grubb and the team. It’s not that they don’t have great drivers in Mark Martin and Brian Vickers filling in, but it’s not their driver. I speak from experience when my driver, Darrell Waltrip, was injured in a practice wreck in Daytona in 1990.

Darrell always gave great feedback. He had a great feel for a race car and had great ideas to help make the car better. Now, Darian is forced into working with drivers that he doesn’t have the chemistry with as he does Denny. The feedback won’t be the same.

These drivers feel of a race car will be different than what Denny has. They aren’t Denny. They aren’t the best driver of the No. 11 car. The best driver of the No. 11 car is sitting injured on the pit box.

It’s a challenge for everyone across the board. From Darian, to the engineers, to the shock guys, the guys who work on the interiors of the cars and even to the pit crew, they all have to do extra work to make sure they adapt to whoever is driving the car that week.

It’s going to be a work in progress. You are always going to strive to get it right. That’s the catch, too. Once you get it right, your driver will hopefully be coming back and then you have to do it all over again. So it’s challenging and frustrating for everyone.

Tagged: Denny Hamlin

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