DOVER, Del. — Denny Hamlin has tried to learn to love Dover. He just can’t. Not yet, at least.
Maybe Hamlin has to learn to win at Dover before he can truly embrace the mile concrete oval. He has been tormented for years by the track and voiced his disdain for Dover as finishes in the 30s or worse piled up. Hamlin also knows he can’t focus on past disappointments. He has to conquer his Dover demons and try and win there if he wants to keep his long shot bid to make Chase alive. Winning the pole for Sunday’s race was a nice start.
Hamlin, actually, has won the last two poles at Dover and parlayed his top spot into an eighth-place finish in September. The top 10 snapped a streak of three straight double-digit finishes at the Monster Mile.
Hamlin had a four-race stretch from 2007-09 in which he finished no better than 36th.
Those are not usually the results for a driver like Hamlin, who is always in the thick of the championship hunt. His average Dover finish of 19.6 is the worst of any track. But two poles and a top 10 could be the start of a new era for Hamlin.
‘‘We possibly could have turned the corner here,’’ Hamlin said. ‘‘We’ll actually see the results on Sunday.’’
Hamlin needs a big payoff in the form of a checkered flag at the 400-mile race. His four-race absence because of a back injury has him needing wins to make the Chase and race for his first career championship.
Hamlin’s fourth-place finish last week at Charlotte Motor Speedway moved him up three spots to 24th in the standings, 53 points out of 20th position, where he’d need to be to be eligible for one of two wild-card slots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.
Hamlin is ready to drive for wins, not just a solid points day.
‘‘We’re going to need to win races, so we’re going to do everything we can to try to get that,’’ he said. ‘‘I’ll be as aggressive as I can, so I’m treating this as more of an offensive race than a defensive one, for sure.’’
He’s in a hole after being sidelined for those four races with a compression fracture in his spine after a March 24 crash involving former teammate Joey Logano, who raced to his third straight Dover victory Saturday in the Nationwide Series, leading the final 34 laps.
Logano won for Penske Racing. His previous two Dover wins came with Joe Gibbs Racing. This time, Logano held off JGR drivers Brian Vickers, Matt Kenseth, and Kyle Busch for the checkered flag.