Triplets put Hamlin's slump in perspective

March, 25, 2010

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. -- Denny Hamlin admittedly is not a good morning person.

Downright horrible, actually.

So after a rough weekend at Bristol, where a blown tire cost him a top-10, maybe even a top-5 finish or a win, and two days of spoiler tests at Charlotte Motor Speedway, he just wanted a day to sleep in and do nothing.

Instead, he dragged himself out of bed, cleared what he called the burning sensation from his eyes and drove to Joe Gibbs Racing to meet three special children who are a part of a unique program being promoted by his primary sponsor, FedEx.

His smile said all you needed to know.

Yes, it was worth it.

While little has gone well for the driver many considered the preseason favorite to knock off four-time defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, meeting Morgan, Preston and Chase Copeland and unveiling the March of Dimes paint scheme he will drive next month at Phoenix put things in perspective.

The 4-year-old triplets, children of FedEx employee Alan Copeland, were born seven weeks premature in 2005. Thanks to the March of Dimes, and in particular the March for Babies program that Hamlin is promoting at the track where he won his first pole, they are healthy and active.

Seeing their enthusiasm as they presented Hamlin a custom-designed helmet with their drawings made blown tires, a slow start and lack of sleep not so bad.

"Seven weeks premature, the success rate is not that great," Hamlin said. "It's really been great with FedEx showing huge support for March of Dimes the last couple of years. All that research is paying off. Even if it makes one child's life improve it's worth all the money they spend on it."

FedEx helped raise $1.4 million for the March of Dimes last season. The company hopes to do even better this year, as Hamlin promotes the March for Babies program with his paint scheme and a ride-along contest.

Yes, you can win a ride with Hamlin, although having almost hit the wall with him behind the wheel of a Toyota hybrid at Charlotte Motor Speedway last year I can say you're taking your life into your own hands. Those who wish to can go to the March for Babies Web site for details.

By the time the contest ends Hamlin hopes to be running back up front and winning races again. He was headed in that direction the past two races at Atlanta and Bristol, where blown tires took him out of contention.

That he is 19th in points and only 86 points out of the top 12 with no finish better than 17th makes him "pretty happy about that, knowing we're one top-3 finish from possibly being in the top 12."

"Really, for us, it's not a panic situation," he added.

Hamlin should be even happier knowing his next race is at Martinsville Speedway, where he has won two of the past four races and is the only driver outside of Johnson to win in the past seven races.

"Without a doubt Jimmie is going to be the favorite, obviously with the momentum he has," Hamlin said of the driver who has won three of the first five races in 2010. "We haven't shown we have been able to contend with him so far this year.

"But I've only had Vegas that's been non-trouble-free for us. For myself, [Martinsville] is going to be a race that is about getting back to a rhythm."

Thursday simply was about getting out of bed early.

Hamlin's glad he did.

David Newton | email

ESPN Staff Writer



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