Denny Hamlin on Chase: “You’re living week to week now”

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Now would be a heck of a time for Joe Gibbs Racing to solve the speed woes it’s faced throughout this season.

JGR got an encouraging sign last night during qualifying at Charlotte Motor Speedway, as Kyle Busch won the pole and Denny Hamlin earned a third-place position on the grid for Saturday night’s Bank of America 500.

Performance on 1.5-mile tracks have been relatively lacking for JGR compared to the stellar showing they had on those tracks last year.

But as Hamlin explained yesterday before qualifying, the Chase format enables teams in it to potentially get hot at the right time – and JGR’s trying to do just that.

Even so, Hamlin seems to be taking a cautiously optimistic stance for the time being.

“We feel better about things obviously, but you’re living week to week now,” Hamlin said. “Your situation changes so much from week to week depending on what your situation is and points and how your day is going that you can go from having a lot of confidence to feeling like you’re going to be left out with one mistake and one race.”

It almost came to that for Hamlin in the Challenger Round.

At New Hampshire, Hamlin was running well and appeared set to go into the elimination race at Dover in great shape.

Instead, he had a fuel probe issue that knocked him several laps down and then crashed after that.

The Loudon disaster put Hamlin six points behind the cutoff and into a pressure-packed situation at the Monster Mile.

Fortunately for him, his 12th-place finish there was enough for a trip to the Contender Round – which he opened solidly last weekend at Kansas with a seventh-place run.

If he can get out of Charlotte with another good finish, Hamlin thinks he’s in for better things. He’s won at all five of the remaining Chase tracks in his career and has multiple wins on three of them (four wins at Martinsville, two apiece at Texas and Homestead).

And if JGR can keep making gains on speed, that’s all the better for him.

“Obviously, I am encouraged about how we are running at some of these tracks that haven’t been our best in the past knowing that we’re getting to those last four race tracks that we feel very, very comfortable with,” he said.

“I’m hoping we continue this trend line up and it’s heading in the right direction, I just hope it keeps going because we’re going to need that little bit of extra speed when we get to these last four.”

Jack Miller wins the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his downward points’ slide

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Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.