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  Denny Hamlin
Car number: 11 • Manufacturer: Chevy • Sponsor: Federal Express
Owner: Joe Gibbs • Team: Joe Gibbs Racing • Crew Chief: Mike Ford

Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images
2006 Season
Final Points Standing3rd
After First 26 Races5th
Top 58
Laps Led418
Lead Lap Finishes29
Bonus Points75
Races Led13
2007 Spin
It has certainly been a magical ride for Denny Hamlin, who was watching races from the grandstand in 2004. He was signed to run in the Busch Series shortly thereafter, and by late 2005, when Joe Gibbs needed a replacement for his No. 11 FedEx Cup ride, Hamlin jumped right in.

And he's been successful from Day One.

Three top 10s and a pole in only seven starts in 2005. Two wins, three poles, 20 top 10s and a third-place showing in the Nextel Cup point standings in '06. Not Rookie of the Year; we're talking Chase here.

Following in the footsteps of Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards, Hamlin is the next rookie to make everyone stand up and take notice. The problem with having such a stellar rookie campaign, however, is that oftentimes a sophomore slump follows.

His Joe Gibbs race team will do everything it can to keep that from happening. Driver and crew seem to have a great chemistry, and sometimes that is all it takes to make a competitive car a winning car. The fact that he ran as well across the board - on every type of track - is the most encouraging sign.

Hamlin, being the newbie that he is, may struggle getting a handle on the Car of Tomorrow, but from all signs thus far, he's a quick learner. Hamlin should have a decent season once again. While we don't think he will replicate last year's flashy numbers, he should win a race or two and record a handful of top 10s. Like Kyle Busch, Hamlin will fall victim to others who used last year's Chase as a test session; while he was racing for a title, they were racing for 2007. We don't see a Chase berth this year, but we do expect him to be in the Chase picture right up to the transfer race at Richmond.

2006 recap
Only 68 points. That's how many points separated Denny Hamlin from winning the Nextel Cup in his first year on the circuit. So to say 2006 was a success for this young Virginian is an understatement.

An upset win in the Bud Shootout gave way to his rockiest stretch of the season. He averaged a 21.5-place finish in the first nine races, as fourth-place runs were followed by 34th-place performances.

A trip to his home track of Richmond changed everything. He ran second that night to Dale Earnhardt Jr. and never looked back. A torrid summer run that was bookended by the Richmond events netted the FedEx team a sweep of the Pocono races and an average finish of 8.8.

The rookie kept his cool in the Chase as well, working his way up to second on two separate occasions. In the end, a title was not meant to be, but his inaugural season featured two wins, a Bud Shootout victory, three poles, eight top 5s, 20 top 10s, a third-place points finish and only one DNF.

The Good: In two Pocono events, Denny Hamlin recorded two poles and two wins, and he led the most laps in each event. He spun out in the spring race while leading, only to drive through the field and retake the lead on his way to his first career victory.

The Bad: Although not of his doing, Hamlin was involved in a first-lap crash in the fall Lowe's race. The damage relegated him to a 28th-place finish.

The Ugly: Anyone who causes The Big One at Talladega gets flagged with an 'Ugly.' With 15 to go in the spring race, Hamlin's misdeed got him on the bad side of NASCAR and some drivers.

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