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Thursday, September 8, 2011
Denny Hamlin still has work to do


WASHINGTON -- The 45-minute postrace "come to Jesus meeting" that Denny Hamlin and crew chief Mike Ford had a few weeks ago apparently has improved the outlook for last year's Sprint Cup runner-up.

Hamlin said during Wednesday's visit to the White House with five-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and others from the 2010 Chase class that the communication issues that sparked rumors of a split with Ford have been resolved.

That's not good news for the rest of the Chase field with the 10-race playoff set to begin next weekend in Chicago.

"I think it's great," Hamlin said of his relationship with Ford, with whom he entered the final race a year ago with a 15-point lead over Johnson only to see it turn into a 39-point loss. "Personally, from the inside perspective, me and Mike's communication is getting a lot better."

Hamlin still has some work to do to make the Chase. He ranks 12th in points and holds the second wild-card spot thanks to his win at Michigan, but there are several drivers with a chance to move ahead of him should one of them win Saturday night's regular-season finale at Richmond International Raceway.

Hamlin knows this is no time to relax.

The good news for Hamlin is he's won the past two September races at RIR, which he considers his home track, having grown up in nearby Chesterfield, Va. The better news for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver: Since his meeting with Ford, the team has finished seventh and eighth to stop a string of four finishes of 15th or worse.

Hamlin is so confident that he's talking championship again.

"If we can get in the Chase," Hamlin said, "we've got some good stuff coming in these next few weeks that hopefully will show the hard work we're putting in now."