Denny Hamlin all but declared the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship was his to lose in the hour after he won the final regular season race Sept. 11 at his home track in Richmond, Va.
His body language seemed to challenge anyone to believe differently. And five races into the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup, Hamlin is every bit on track to back up the words.
He felt he could win or contend on every single of the 10 Chase tracks and, in the past, it might have seemed more bravado than measured confidence from the NASCAR "young gun."
But this is a different Hamlin. The 2010 Hamlin model says the proper championship mindset has at last matched his considerable talent. And he is doing everything he needs to do to give four-time defending series champ Jimmie Johnson a real run for a fifth.
Johnson holds a 41-point edge over second place Hamlin entering Sunday's race at the half-mile Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, where the Tums Fast Relief 500 is being billed as mano y mano -- a heavyweight fight of sorts between Hamlin and Johnson, who have combined to win every race there in the last four years.
"People would think so, I would think so,'' Hamlin said of comparing the race to a title fight. "I feel like if it is mano y mano, we've been in a lot of green-white-checkers where we've been on the front row together, so it should be interesting.''