Commentary

Hamlin uses Charlotte test to put Richmond heartbreak behind him

What did Denny Hamlin do after losing a race he dominated at a track on which he wants to win more than any other? Stare at the TV -- stone silent -- for nearly 24 hours, writes David Newton.

Updated: May 6, 2008, 5:55 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

CONCORD, N.C. -- Denny Hamlin sat by himself in his home off Lake Norman after returning from nearby Richmond International Raceway in the wee hours of Sunday morning. He had a television remote control in one hand and a beverage in the other.

For almost 24 hours, he sat there, staring into space, moving only to turn the channel to the NBA playoffs when highlights of the previous night's Sprint Cup race came on ESPN.

He talked to no one, not even his roommates. And no one dared talk to him, aware of the pain he felt after losing so dramatically at a track only 15 minutes from his Chesterfield home in a race he deemed more important than the Daytona 500.

"Everyone knows, that's close to me … I don't like to be consoled," Hamlin said late Monday afternoon between test sessions at Lowe's Motor Speedway. "When somebody says, 'Hey, we know [sympathetically] …' I don't want to hear it. Just don't talk to me."

Were it not for the Monday and Tuesday tests, Hamlin might still be sitting there, wondering why a cut right tire with 18 laps remaining kept him from taking the checkered flag in a race he led for 381 of 400 laps.

"It's good to be back at a race track, because if we had to sit around at the house all day and watch highlights … it would just fire you up even more," Hamlin said.

Hamlin was so depressed following the loss that LMS president H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler was given grief for providing him with a "good luck" pocketknife.

"Not good for someone on suicide watch," Hamlin said with a laugh.

Hamlin can laugh now. He was almost in tears after the race, knowing he might never get another chance to be so dominant in a race that means so much to him.

"You always hear stories about … you'll get that one back in a race that you probably didn't deserve to win anyway later on in your career," Hamlin said. "Will I get it at Richmond? What are the chances of that? I don't know.

"The good thing is that's a track that we always do run good at, so hopefully we do have more chances in the future to do it in the fashion that we were going to do it."

Hamlin won the Nationwide Series race and the pole for the Cup race on Friday. He was 18 laps from the perfect weekend and the perfect spring for a Virginia native, considering he had won a few weeks earlier at Martinsville.

Instead, he finished 24th. To add insult to injury, he was penalized two laps by NASCAR for parking his car on the track to bring out the caution for fear of tearing up the sway bar.

And the pain got even worse Sunday night, when the 2006 rookie of the year injured his left hip in a pickup basketball game. He walked through the LMS garage with a noticeable limp and looked like someone three times his age (he's 27) while climbing in and out of the No. 11 car.

Denny Hamlin

You always hear stories about … you'll get that one back in a race that you probably didn't deserve to win anyway later on in your career. Will I get it at Richmond? What are the chances of that? I don't know.

-- Denny Hamlin

"I'd like to say I was going up for a dunk, but I think everyone would know that ain't true," Hamlin said. "I don't know. When I went up, the person was lower than I was and I kind of clipped over his shoulder. I was horizontal to the ground, and that was bad on the way down."

It hurt, but not nearly as badly as losing the race, the second time this season an unusual twist of fate has stolen victory from him. He was leading at Bristol on a green-white-checkered start when the car misfired because not enough fuel got into the engine.

"It's a hard, hard pill to swallow," said Hamlin, who is sixth in points heading into Saturday's race at Darlington. "Bristol was a hard pill to swallow. But this was by far way worse."

Joe Gibbs Racing president J.D. Gibbs said he was impressed with the maturity with which Hamlin handled himself following the race. He added that he wouldn't be surprised if Hamlin bounced back and won this weekend.

"He's like my father after a loss in football," said Gibbs, the son of JGR owner and former Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs. "But like they say, time heals wounds."

Hamlin wouldn't be surprised if he came back and won his first championship, saying he has a "Chase-contending car right now."

But for 24 hours after Saturday, he didn't say anything.

"Literally not one word was spoken from [my roommates] picking me up, taking me home and going in our rooms," Hamlin said. "Not one word was spoken. I think everyone knew how much we let that one slip away."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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