Sprint Cup: Hamlin fulfills an unusual commitment

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Denny Hamlin has sorted packages at FedEx headquarters on the busiest day of the year, has gone to the Super Bowl and the Orange Bowl, and has done cross-promotions with golfer Davis Love III and Cowboys tight end Jason Witten.

But his latest sponsor outing may have been the most unique yet: FedEx sent him to Alaska to learn how to drive a dog sled with the reigning Iditarod champion.

"I get to do a lot of things I wouldn't normally get to do if I was not with FedEx," Hamlin said. "For me, it's good to have a sponsor that shows you in such a great light. I get so much credit for doing all these things, but they are the ones who are helping out the communities everywhere I go."

That relationship is one of the reasons Hamlin is currently negotiating a contract extension with Joe Gibbs Racing, more than a year before his current deal even expires. He looks around the garage and can't find many rides he believes are as competitive as his No. 11 Toyota. He understands he's got a very good thing going and how fortunate he is with FedEx backing him and JGR.

There are only four sponsors in NASCAR -- Lowe's, Menards, Miller and NAPA -- that pay for the primary sponsorship of a full 38-race schedule. 5-Hour Energy does 37 races, and FedEx is right behind at 36 with a visually uncluttered paint scheme that suits Hamlin's personality.

The company has been with him since his 2005 debut in a tryout role with Gibbs, and Hamlin has no reason to believe FedEx doesn't want to continue its sponsorship role.

"When I first got into this, I didn't realize the importance of sponsors and the value of building a strong relationship with a brand or a company," Hamlin said. "I sure see it now. You look around and see the struggles teams and drivers have in finding sponsors, or building long-term partnerships, and it makes you realize how fortunate you are to have someone who wants you and wants to have a strong relationship with you."

DuPont has been with four-time champion Jeff Gordon since his 1993 debut, and although the company has taken a lesser role the past two seasons, it's the longest driver-sponsor relationship in NASCAR. That ranks Hamlin and FedEx third, behind five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who has been with Lowe's since his 2001 debut with Hendrick Motorsports.

Hamlin's latest excursion with his sponsor took him to Anchorage on Monday, where he visited the main shipping hub and its employees. The event was open to FedEx employees all over Alaska, and Hamlin realized the importance of being sent to visit with the associates -- many of whom took the day off and traveled across the state to meet their driver.

"Living in Alaska, they don't get to see a whole lot of racing, nor do they get to see their driver too often," Hamlin said. "So it was a very exciting time for them. It was a great experience. I had never been to Alaska before, but got a chance to visit the Anchorage hub and there's 1,300 FedEx employees at that hub and greeted all of them with smiles and they just had a great time."

When his appearance was over, he met 2012 Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey, who gave him a lesson in driving a dog sled. Then Seavey brought out his dogs, set up the sleds and raced through the parking lot against Hamlin.

Hamlin was wowed by Seavey's tales from the Iditarod.

"It was amazing to hear the conditions they go through, being anywhere from 40 above zero to 50, 60 below zero during the Iditarod run, a 1,000-mile run," he said. "Pretty neat thing to do and learn about."

Hamlin again praised FedEx. "They do such a good job of implementing things that I like ... sponsor obligations. To me, these are the fun things that I like to do."

Points chase

Points leaders in the Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship going into Saturday's race. The top 10 qualify along with two wild cards.

Driver Pts/behind

1. Matt Kenseth 596

2. Greg Biffle --11

3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. --14

4. Jimmie Johnson --25

5. Tony Stewart --63

6. Kevin Harvick --64

7. Clint Bowyer --67

8. Denny Hamlin --73

9. Martin Truex Jr. --76

10. Brad Keselowski --106

Wild cards: Through 16 events, Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman would hold the 11th and 12th spots based on race wins.

autoracing


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