NASCAR’s current ladder system is designed to soften the transition from unsanctioned or regional stock car racing to an eventual ride in the Cup series. But when Denny Hamlin broke into the top tier in 2006, he had minimal experience at this level.
Hamlin won twice at Pocono in 2006 as a rookie, but that was far from what he expected.
“When I came into this sport, it was so hard because I came from winning almost every week in late model stocks,” Hamlin said. “One year later, I went from late models full time to Cup full time – in one year. And that was a different transition from being able to just show up and beat up on everyone to just – I considered running top 10 not good.”
Hamlin spent one full season in the Xfinity series – or the Busch series as it was known then – while running seven races in Cup in 2005. Getting tossed into the deep end of the pool like that, one of the most difficult things he had to face was readjusting his attitude.
“I remember Mike Forde sitting me down one time and saying ‘you’re gonna have to find happiness in a different way than just winning. You’re gonna have to find a way to be satisfied on good days that you might not think are good days.’ That was really good advice.”
Fast forward through 13 full time seasons, 31 victories and 138 top fives – and Hamlin has gained a greater appreciation for his successes.
“Later in my career, you cherish the wins more so now than ever because I believe the competition is as strong as it’s ever been and it’s tougher now to win than it’s ever been.”
For more, watch the video above.