CONCORD, N.H. --- Denny Hamlin, the top seed among the 12 drivers entered in NASCAR's 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, visited Tuesday with the New Hampshire National Guard's 169th Med-Evac Aviation Unit, which will be deployed to Afghanistan six days after the Sylvania 300 Sprint Cup race Sept. 23 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Hamlin's visit coincided with the solemn remembrances nationwide for the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Hamlin arrived on the tarmac of the aviation facility behind the wheel of an NHMS pace car and was given a tour of a Black Hawk helicopter and allowed to sit in the pilot's seat.
He returned the favor by providing the troops with a beneath-the-hood tour of his No. 11 FedEx Toyota fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing, and fired up the motor of his snarling 3,500-pound stock car.
"I told them that was the first time I've ever got to visit with troops outside of the race track,'' said Hamlin. "We constantly have inside our NASCAR races individuals from our military that we honor each and every week during the drivers' meeting and during the race intros.
"But to actually see guys and gals who you know are going away for a year, that was the first time I had ever been a part of that,'' Hamlin said. "That was a very unique experience.''
Jerry Gappens, executive vice president and general manager at NHMS, invited the 169th Med-Evac Unit to attend the Sylvania 300 as special guests of the track, promising them red-carpet VIP treatment.
Hamlin, however, took it a step further, promising to have the 169th join him in Victory Lane at NHMS if he wins the second race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship.
"I told 'em all we got a good shot at it,'' said Hamlin, who was dominant in July's Lenox Industrial Tools 301 but had a pit-road miscommunication cost him a victory. "If we win at New Hampshire, they're all going to come to Victory Lane. They were wondering where are we going to have some beer, and I told them, 'Meet me in Victory Lane, we'll have plenty.'"
While the National Guard already serves as a primary sponsor of another driver in the Chase, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Andy Foote, chief warrant officer for the 169th, said the unit might have another rooting interest in the race.
“We’re looking forward to going out to the track and watching you,” Foote said. “We’ve got a lot of NASCAR fans in this group and I think you’ve made a few more today. We wish you the best of luck when you come back here.”
Hamlin will enter the 10-race Chase, which gets underway Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., as one of the hottest drivers on the NASCAR circuit, with two victories in the last three weeks of the regular season and a series-leading four victories on the season to go along with 13 top 10s and 11 top 5s.
“We expect to run well at most of these final 10 tracks,'' Hamlin said. "But we expect to win at New Hampshire.”
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