Denny Hamlin has been excited about his chances to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship Race, and for good reason: He’s won at all three of the Eliminator Round tracks – Martinsville, Texas, and Phoenix – over the course of his career.
The question was if he would be among the final eight Chasers involved in said Eliminator Round.
Now that it’s been answered in the affirmative, Hamlin’s looking more and more like a proper sleeper to get in that final battle at Homestead next month.
He can make the leap from sleeper to true championship contender with a fifth career Cup victory at Martinsville Speedway in Sunday’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500.
“Really, these tracks are statistically my best race tracks in this Chase,” Hamlin said today. “I’m pretty excited about our chances. We’ve got a big obstacle ahead of us this weekend at Martinsville. We’re just going to enjoy it, have fun and see where we all stack up.”
Hamlin and his fellow Chaser from Joe Gibbs Racing, Matt Kenseth, may not have as much speed as some of the others within the Eliminator 8. But consistency up front can trump that speed if a faster driver has something go wrong for him.
“One loose wheel, one crash pretty much takes you out of it. If you can’t finish these races in a good finishing position, then it doesn’t matter how fast your cars are,” he said. “You have to have all the pieces to the puzzle together now that you’re part of the final eight, because the four that move on will be the four that stand out I think in this round.
“It’s not going to be about surviving or backing your way [in]. I don’t think anybody other than the [Martinsville and Texas] race winners will be going into Phoenix thinking, ‘Okay, let’s just have a solid week here and move on to Homestead.’ There is no more hanging back and trying to be conservative from here on out. You’ve got to be fast.”
As for who he considers his stiffest competition, Hamlin naturally chose Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, both of whom have won eight times at Martinsville.
Gordon can also punch his ticket to South Florida with a win on Sunday. But Johnson, despite being eliminated from the Chase in the Contender Round, can still have an impact by winning himself as it would take away one of the automatic berths for the Championship Race.
Hamlin figures he may always be fighting Gordon and Johnson on this particular track.
“In the end, you’re still going to be racing the same guys in my opinion, no matter what the changes are because they have a technique to get around this race track that is going to make them successful whether they’re driving a Cup car or a truck,” he said. “It’s worked for them for so many years, there’s no turning back.
“They’ll never be bad at this race track ever again – it don’t matter what tire, what car – eventually they’ll figure it out. It’s just a matter of if you have one of those off weekends or not.”