A year ago, Denny Hamlin arrived at Texas Motor Speedway suffering physical pains caused by a surgically repaired knee. A victory in the Samsung Mobile 500 helped take away some of the sting. This weekend, Hamlin arrives suffering a different kind of pain — emotional anguish caused by a precariously slow start to the NASCAR Sprint Cup season. The hope is another dose of victory tonight at TMS will be a step toward a cure. "I've obviously got some great memories at this track, especially last year," Hamlin said. "So (I'm) jacked up about that and excited to be back here." Hamlin, who thrashed his way back from his knee problem last spring to make a strong bid at the series championship, is now 19th in points. He has just one top-10 finish on the year, seventh at Las Vegas. Two of his finishes have been 30th or worse.
The pain from all that produced a volcanic reaction after Martinsville, where he had won three straight until fading to 12th on Sunday.
When asked what he and his team needed to do to climb into contention, the emotional Hamlin cut loose.
"There's lots of things," he said.
• Things like better pit stops: "You've got chemistry and stuff … but at this point you either work with what you've got or try to find someone that maybe can do a better job."
• Things like faster cars: "We had a good car (at Martinsville). We didn't have a great car."
• And things like fuel mileage: "Our mileage just (stunk) real bad. It (stunk) at Phoenix, and it (stunk) here."
Hamlin summed winter and early spring of 2011 by saying, "All of the things we need to do to be a championship team — we don't have all those parts together right now."
But Texas is traditionally a place where Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing team have been at their best.
Hamlin not only won last year's spring race at the 1.5-mile quad-oval, but in November he added a second set of six-shooters and Charlie 1 Horse hat that go to winners at Texas.
In 11 starts, Hamlin has eight top-10 finishes at TMS.
His average finish of 8.8 is best among current drivers.
He said the track suits his style.
"The transitions from the straightaway to the corner are smooth," he said. " … That's what just gives me a better feel of what I need."
And the track played a big part in a 2010 season in which Hamlin came within a race of winning a Cup title.
"Texas was very instrumental in two different ways," Hamlin said. "One, it was the turning-around point of our season the first time around. It was the point in which we … had just come off knee surgery, we were terrible in points, and then all of a sudden we won. Then all of a sudden it was a snowball effect and (we) started winning a bunch of races at different tracks.
"Then at the end of the year it was the point where we got back on top and got the points lead so … there's a lot of good memories here, and every time I come here I always seem to have some good memories."
Hamlin could use something good in his 2011 season right now.