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Hamlin's Dover thaw

DOVER, Del. — Could it really be true love between Denny Hamlin and Dover?

So far, it's at least a crush.

His performance today will determine the true fate of this relationship.

Trying to adjust his approach toward his least favorite track, Hamlin's reignited courtship produced fantastic results Saturday when he turned a lap of 159.299 mph to win the pole at Dover International Speedway.

Hamlin has been open in his disdain for the 1-mile concrete oval and knew he'd have to conquer his Dover demons to keep his driven bid for his first career Cup championship rolling along.

Hamlin, third in the points standings, turned to a sports psychologist for advice. The message for Hamlin was this, "Let your challenge for the week be to fall in love with this track."

Hamlin says the good karma, and a great No. 11 Toyota, played a part in the turnaround.

"I think that right now we have everything rolling," Hamlin said. "That part of it is giving me a ton of confidence."

Hamlin is six points behind Brad Keselowski, seven behind leader Jimmie Johnson.

Dover has traditionally given Hamlin fits. He has an average finish of 20.5 in 13 career starts at Dover. He finished 36th or worse during a four-race stretch from 2007 to 2009. He's said he just doesn't like the track.

But Saturday, he talked about winning: "We've got a car that's very capable of staying in the front.''

Hamlin, had never started better than third at Dover, won his 12th career pole and third this season.

Hamlin praised crew chief Darian Grubb, who led Tony Stewart to the championship last year, for putting the No. 11 in position to take the pole.

"I think there's a lot of drivers out there that could be able to do what I do with the cars that Darian has been giving me the last few weeks," Hamlin said. "I'm going to ride his back as long as it will hold me."

Nine other Chase for the Sprint Cup championship drivers filled the top 13. Clint Bowyer starts second and Martin Truex Jr. is third. Greg Biffle and Jeff Gordon start sixth and seventh. Kasey Kahne, Keselowski, Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick are ninth through 13th. Stewart starts 24th and Dale Earnhardt Jr. is 25th.

danica update: Danica Patrick appears set to work with Ryan Newman's crew for her full-time Sprint Cup ride in 2013. Stewart-Haas Racing would like to ease Patrick's transition by letting her work with crew chief Tony Gibson and his team. Newman, who drives the No. 39 for SHR, would then be in the market for a new crew chief. Patrick said she's a Gibson fan and supports the pending move. "I've always felt like he listens to me when I'm talking and that always means a lot," Patrick said. "I feel like I get the respect from him." Newman said of Gibson leaving: "I don't know that I am (losing him) or he is or whatever. I don't know what you're talking about."

TESTING 1, 2, 3, 4: NASCAR will let organizations test at circuit tracks four times next season to go along with the season-opening test at Daytona. NASCAR had banned teams from testing at circuit tracks since 2009 in a cost-cutting move.

>>fast facts

Sprint Cup points

With eight races left in the Chase for the Championship, only these drivers are eligible to win the title:

Driver Pts. Back

J. Johnson 2096—

B. Keselowski 2095 1

Denny Hamlin 2089 7

Tony Stewart 2086 10

Kasey Kahne 2081 15

Clint Bowyer 2081 15

D. Earnhardt Jr. 2070 26

Kevin Harvick 2065 31

Greg Biffle 2063 33

Martin Truex 2062 34

Matt Kenseth 2061 35

Jeff Gordon 2051 45

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Hamlin's Dover thaw 09/29/12 [Last modified: Sunday, September 30, 2012 12:02am]
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