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Denny Hamlin capped off an emotional week for Joe Gibbs Racing on Sunday by taking the checkered flag at the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Va..
Joe Gibbs Racing announced last week that team president J.D. Gibbs – son of the Pro Football Hall of Famer – is being treated for a medical condition.
"J.D. gains his strength from the fact that he has a personal relationship with the Lord, and I have got to tell you that he's my hero when I kind of watch him," Joe Gibbs said before the race via ESPN.com. "I don't know that anybody has ever dealt with anything as courageous as J.D. does."
Hamlin has had quite a lot of success since joining the NASCAR ranks with Joe Gibbs racing, winning a combined 38 races between the circuit's three levels.
Before becoming the perennial contender that he is, though, Hamlin was racing late model cars in lower circuits. Then J.D. found him.
"I was honestly thinking down the stretch with Denny, I thought, 'Man, that would be awesome to have Denny be able to win this race,'" Joe Gibbs began after the race. "Because J.D. really came back from meeting with Denny and I think he purchased some late model stuff there and put him in a test and then J.D. said, 'Let's put him in a truck,' and the truck wasn't a real good one and he finished 10th. And then J.D. said, 'Let's put him at Darlington. We'll see what he's made out of.' We put him over there in an Xfinity car, and he finished eighth.
After finding early success at both levels, the Gibbs family agreed Denny had the right stuff to compete at the Sprint Cup level.
"J.D. said to me, 'Dad, I think we ought to sign this guy,' and I go, 'You got that right,'" Joe Gibbs said after the race. "The crazy thing was really if you think about him and what he did, he raced a half a year in Xfinity. That was it."
Not only did Hamlin win the race, but fellow Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Matt Kenseth (fourth), David Ragan (fifth) and Carl Edwards (17th despite two flat tires) also had solid days.
"For me, it was emotional thinking about J.D. and all that he means to our team," Gibbs said. "It was a big week for us, but a great finish to a story there."
Here's a social recap of Hamlin's victory: