- Associated Press - Saturday, June 1, 2013

DOVER, DEL. (AP) - Denny Hamlin has tried to learn to love Dover.

He just can’t. Not yet, at least.

Maybe Hamlin has to learn to win at Dover before he can truly embrace the mile concrete oval.

Hamlin has been tormented for years by the track and voiced his disdain for Dover as finishes in the 30s or worse piled up. Hamlin also knows he can’t focus on the past disappointments. He has to conquer his Dover demons and try and win there if he wants to keep his long shot bid to make Chase alive.

Winning the pole for Sunday’s race was a nice start.

Hamlin, actually, has won the last two poles at Dover and parlayed his top spot into an eighth-place finish in the September race. The top-10 snapped a streak of three straight double-digit finishes at the Monster Mile. Hamlin had a four-race stretch from 2007-09 where he finished no better than 36th.

Those are usually the results for a driver like Casey Mears, not someone like Hamlin, who is always in the thick of the championship hunt.

His average Dover finish of 19.6 is the worst of any track.

But two poles and a top 10 could be the start of a new era for Hamlin.

“We possibly could have turned the corner here,” Hamlin said. “We’ll actually see the results on Sunday.”

Hamlin needs a big payoff in the form of a checkered flag at the 400-mile race. Hamlin’s four-race absence because of his back injury has him needing wins to make the Chase and race for his first career championship.

Hamlin’s fourth-place finish last week at Charlotte Motor Speedway moved him up three spots to 24th in the standings, 53 points out of 20th position, where he’d need to be to be eligible for one of two wild-card slots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. He is 97 points out of the top 10 and an automatic berth in the Chase.

Hamlin is ready drive for wins, not just a solid points day.

“We’re going to need to win races, so we’re going to do everything we can to try to get that,” he said. “I”ll be as aggressive as I can, so I’m treating this as more of an offensive race than a defensive one, for sure.”

He’s in a hole after being sidelined for four races with a compression fracture in his lower spine following a March 24 crash involving former teammate Joey Logano. His Joe Gibbs Racing team has done all it can to make him comfortable in the No. 11 Toyota. He switched up his seat belt configuration, had air bags stuffed into the driver’s seat to assist with comfort and there’s padding to help support his still achy back.

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