There was a reason I picked Denny Hamlin to win the Sprint Cup Series championship this season.
Although he is already eliminated from title contention in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup, the poise he displayed in the last few weeks capped by a win last Sunday at Martinsville, Va., reminded me of why I chose him.
Back in January during the annual NASCAR media tour hosted by Lowe's Motor Speedway, I spent quite a bit of time around Hamlin during our stop to Joe Gibbs Racing headquarters. I sensed a different persona. Call it maturity, experience, or what have you.
Maybe it was just a little older and wiser Denny Hamlin, but I believed Hamlin finally understood the sport and knew what it took to win and consistently run up front.
He proved that by making the Chase this season with the help of two wins. When his title hopes went sour after consecutive bad races at California and LMS, the prevailing theory was he was done for the season.
Hamlin fell to 11th in points and no one seemed convinced he would end the season much better.
But there he was - the more mature, older, wiser Hamlin, telling the NASCAR world in the face of adversity that he would win another race before the end of the season.
And he did just that last weekend.
Even after the victory, Hamlin's take on the win showed his growing appreciation of what it takes to succeed.
After losing the chance at a championship, he talked of refocusing goals on "small victories" and getting ready for the next challenge.
"I told Mike (Ford, crew chief) at the beginning of this race, I said, 'Let's just get back to the Top 5 in points because it's a shame for us to be in 11th as competitive as we've been," Hamlin said.
That sounds like a guy who is looking and appreciating the "big picture."
It also sounds more and more like a guy who "gets it." And with that attitude, he will get it one day - a Cup championship.
New Nationwide car ready to test. The new Nationwide Series car, which will be used in four races next season, will be put to its final test this season on Monday at Talladega Superspeedway.
The new car has already been through two tests, both last year, at Richmond International Raceway and Lowe's Motor Speedway.
"This is another major step as we continue to give the series a unique look and enhance the competitive racing we already have on the track," said series director Joe Balash.
The new car will be raced at Daytona (July), Michigan (August), Richmond (September) and Lowe's (October) next season. The car will be used in all races in 2011.
BAM plans Daytona return. BAM Racing, which suspended operations in 2008 because of lack of sponsorship, announced a marketing alliance with Warner Music Nashville it hopes will bring the team back to the track in 2010.
WMN artists will have the opportunity to participate in branding and promotional programs at NASCAR events with the team and its No. 49 team.
The team, which has not announced a driver, plans a return for Speedweeks 2010 at Daytona.
Toyota wins another title. When Kyle Busch finished second at Memphis last Saturday, Toyota clinched its second consecutive Nationwide Series manufacturers' championship in just its third year of competition.
This marks the fifth time Toyota has earned a manufacturers' title since its entry into national series competition in 2004. Toyota has won the manufacturers' crown in the Truck series the past three seasons.
Trying for Cup debut. Robert Richardson Jr. will attempt to qualify for his first Cup race this weekend at Talladega, driving Tommy Baldwin Racing's No. 36 Toyota.