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New dad Hamlin hopes to add to big year

NASCAR.com

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. -- Denny Hamlin has this fatherhood thing down.

Five days of it, at least.

"It actually hasn't been too bad," said the Joe Gibbs Racing driver, whose daughter Taylor James Hamlin was born Sunday. "She's sleeping most all the time now in between feedings. So it's been relatively easy. So far."

Surely that will eventually change, as Hamlin juggles his new daddy duties along with his role as one of the top drivers in the Sprint Cup Series. But to this point, it's all gone smoothly -- the baby is healthy, Hamlin said his girlfriend Jordan Fish came though the birth without a hitch, both sets of parents have arrived in town to help, and even the dogs seem to get along with the new arrival.

"The experience is great," Hamlin said Thursday, when the Gibbs shop was visited by the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway. "Your outlook changes, on when you have to leave home, when you have to get home, things like that. How excited you are to pull into the driveway knowing you get to see your daughter. So that part of it is cool."

Soon enough, it will be time for Hamlin to say goodbye to mother and daughter -- the baby is too young to venture to Speedweeks -- and work on bringing home another new addition: the Sprint Cup championship that eluded him again last season. He still shakes his head over how it ended for him last year, when he opened the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup running as well as anyone, and ended it out of contention because of a mechanical problem.

This time, it was an electrical switch that went awry at Martinsville, one of Hamlin's best tracks. He still won five times in 2012, but believes he should have doubled that number, and the way last year ended made it clear in his mind what the offseason priority needed to be.

"You can't have any DNFs. We've seen that," Hamlin said. "There are no more mulligans in the Chase ... It's just too hard nowadays. You've got to average a finish in the top five. That's extremely hard to do, but we can do it. We've been in championship hunts and something mechanical has taken that away every single time. ? Our key in the offseason has been reliability, coming up with a system to make sure our cars are bulletproof when they hit the race track."

These are not new issues at JGR, where Kyle Busch's dominant 2008 season came unglued in the Chase opener because a rear suspension piece simply wasn't hooked up correctly. Jimmy Makar, vice president for racing operations at Gibbs, says the team is working on it. Last year, JGR implemented a system that analyzes potential failures and ranks them in terms of importance, from something relatively innocuous to something that can knock a car out of a race.

"We're real good at fixing failures once they happen," Makar said. "That's something we've always been good at. We're trying to get to the point where we recognize a potential failure before it ever happens, and be proactive instead of reactive."

Hamlin feels the team is heading in the right direction. "Things that went wrong with our cars, or things that fell off or got loose or whatever, it was human error, and you need to take that kind of out of the equation," he said. "To do that, you have to have more than one set of eyes working on your cars. We're hopefully working on some things to make sure that our cars are reliable as the planes you fly in the air."

Right now, though, Hamlin still has a few weeks to bask in his newfound fatherhood before the season begins. "Leaving the house for sure will be hard. I have solace in knowing in just a few months I'll get to see her all the time every day," he said. And there are plenty around him willing to offer advice, team president J.D. Gibbs included.

"I asked Jordan, 'How was he?' I went and saw the baby a couple of days after and said, 'How's he been?' She said he's been really good," said Gibbs, who has four children. "My wife would not say that about me. So it was good to hear that. I said, 'Hey, this ain't easy, so hang in there.' "

Hamlin's crew chief Darian Grubb has two kids, and they might offer a preview of what the driver is in for. "My 4-year-old son's got strep, and my 6-month-old is sick and has goo running out of every orifice she has. So it's one of those things," Grubb said, laughing.

"It's a tough time, but it's also one of the most gratifying times you'll ever have. I sent him a text and said, 'Let me know when you get to take that first nap with her sleeping on your chest, and you'll know what it's all about to be a father then.' He sent me back a one-word text that just said, 'Awesome.' "

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FULL COVERAGE

Monday, Jan. 21: Video: Up to Speed " Confident Danica " Harvick heading out

Tuesday, Jan. 22 Video: NASCAR President Mike Helton on the Gen-6 car

Wednesday, Jan. 23: Ganassi stays steady " Four encore at Hendrick? " Junior 'embarrassed'

Thursday, Jan. 24: Bayne's Cup plans in focus " Pastrana has the look " Busch sticks with JGR

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