Denny Hamlin enjoyed his time driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) at Martinsville Speedway so much, he has decided to celebrate his 31st birthday behind the wheel of the No. 18 Dollar General Tundra in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway Friday night.
Hamlin, who became the 23rd driver to register at least one win in all three of NASCAR's national series when he picked up his first career Truck Series win driving the No. 18 Tundra three weeks ago at Martinsville, has one win and six top-10 finishes in 12 career Truck Series starts.
The Virginia native is hoping to turn his birthday into a three-day celebration which includes a daily visit to Victory Lane. Hamlin - who also will pilot Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 18 Camry in the Nationwide Series race Saturday - will take a shot at becoming just the second driver to win in all three of NASCAR's national series in the same weekend, a feat that KBM owner Kyle Busch accomplished last August at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Friday's 134-lap race will be Hamlin's first start in the trucks at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but he has experienced success while driving in NASCAR's top two divisions. In six career Sprint Cup Series starts at the 1.5-mile oval, he has one win and three top-three finishes, and in five Nationwide Series starts he has posted two top-five finishes.
The race will be a reunion between Hamlin and Dollar General, the primary sponsor of the No. 18 Tundra for Friday's race. He scored two top-10 finishes in four Nationwide Series starts behind the wheel of the No. 32 Dollar General Toyota in 2008.
Denny Hamlin, Driver of the No. 18 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Dollar General Tundra:
Are you excited to get back behind the wheel of KBM's No. 18 Tundra?
"I'm really excited to get back behind the wheel of the No. 18 Tundra. I knew going into Martinsville that Kyle had put together a team that builds great trucks and wins a lot of races. That was my first chance to drive for them and to experience it firsthand -- it definitely lived up to my expectations. When you have a team as good as those guys it makes it so easy on the driver. You get in one of their trucks everything is exactly where you would want it. I looked around and it was just as nice as my Cup car. I just showed up at the track and made a few adjustments to my steering wheel and off we went. We unloaded a fast truck and had a pretty flawless weekend -- hopefully we can do the same again this weekend. I'm also looking forward to driving a Dollar General Toyota again. I ran a few races in the No. 32 Dollar General Camry in the Nationwide Series a few years back and they are a great supporter of NASCAR. We're looking forward to having them as a partner at Joe Gibbs Racing next season."
Eric Phillips, Crew Chief of the No. 18 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Dollar General Tundra:
How would you assess your team's season?
"It has definitely been an up and down season, but when you sit back and look at it as a whole, overall you have to be happy with winning eight races. I think that we struggled a little bit through the summer months, but the guys worked hard the last few months -- we built a few new trucks -- and although we didn't have some of the results to show for it, we definitely ran better the last quarter of the season. I think we have a few things we've worked on here lately that will make us better going into next year."
How will you use this weekend's race to start working towards 2012?
"We are bringing the same Tundra that we ran in Texas, which was a brand new truck there. In the last few months we've spent a lot of time doing some research and development work. We've incorporated a few of the things that we've learned into this truck. We feel like our latest truck is an improvement over what we ran this year and will give us a better mile-and-half truck heading into the 2012 season. The guys at Triad built another new engine for this weekend and it is a little better than the one we had at Texas. We are looking forward to having Denny put some miles on both the truck and the motor this weekend. We'll be able to compare the feedback we get from him with what we learned at Texas. That should give us a good set of notes to work with going into next season."