Driver has seven wins at next three Sprint Cup tracks.
It may seem strong talk from a driver who has only one win this season – but now that he has advanced to the Eliminator 8 Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Denny Hamlin said he figures his chances of winning it all are as good as anyone’s.
“I believe we have all the tools necessary,” Hamlin said of his No. 11 FedEx Toyota team Tuesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, where the eight drivers remaining in the hunt for the 2014 championship gathered to speak with the media.
Not only that, but Hamlin likes where the Sprint Cup Series is headed for the three races of the Eliminator Round. He owns a total of seven career wins at Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix, and would need to add only one more to secure advancement into the final winner-take-all championship race in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he has won twice. That includes his win there in last year’s final race.
Of the seven career victories he owns at the next three venues, five have come at .526-mile Martinsville Speedway. Hamlin’s average finish in 17 career starts at the track is 8.8 – second only to Jeff Gordon’s career average finish of 7.0 among the drivers left in this Chase.
“There is no reason we can’t be as competitive as these seven guys we’re racing against over these last four races,” said Hamlin, whose lone victory so far this season came at Talladega in the spring. “And truth be told, if you asked me where I would like to run one race, heads-up for the championship, I would pick either Martinsville or Homestead.
“I almost would pick Homestead, because we’ve had a lot of success there over the last few years. No one saw us coming there last year. We had been running 15th every week, and then we went out and won Homestead. It’s hard to pinpoint favorites and underdogs at this point, because there are so many variables. Plus we go to two of these short tracks (including the one-mile venue at Phoenix), where speed is not that big of a factor.”
Gibbs Toyotas down on power?
Matching the speed of the Team Penske Fords and the Chevrolets fielded by Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart-Haas Racing at the bigger tracks has been a problem for Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates much of this season. Hamlin said he realizes that may come into play at 1.5-mile Homestead – but again, that’s a track he likes and has performed well on in the past, and he just wants to make it there still alive in the Chase.
Earning a sixth career win at Martinsville this Sunday would do the trick. Despite finishing a disappointing – and uncharacteristic – 19th there in the spring race after he qualified second, Hamlin said he is very confident.
“It’s a huge opportunity for us,” Hamlin said. “As average as our team has been in general this year, when we go into a short track where horsepower doesn’t matter, aero doesn’t matter – and it’s about the driver and mechanical setups – I feel like those are our strong suits.
“As bad as we ran there in the spring, you can’t compare it to the fall. There was no practice in the spring. We went to a race track and tested for Martinsville a week after the spring race – for this race right here. I think I’ve got three or four true days testing on a race track just for this Martinsville and trying to perform well in this particular race, knowing this is a great shot for us. If we can win here, we’ll get that shot at Homestead that I feel ultra-confident in.”
Sandusky doubles for Martinsville
Hamlin said JGR found a track in Sandusky, Ohio, that resembles Martinsville – and since it’s a non-NASCAR-sanctioned track, they could test there as much as they wanted this season. Next season, NASCAR is doing away with testing at all tracks for individual teams.
“Normally I wouldn’t give that information away, but there’s no more testing now,” Hamlin said. He knows he almost didn’t make it this far in the Chase. He spent most of last Sunday’s Talladega race riding around toward the back, trying to avoid trouble. He narrowly did so and then still found himself in jeopardy of being one of the four drivers eliminated when Brad Keselowski, who needed to win to advance, did just that.
In the end, Hamlin’s 18th-place finish was good enough to put him in the next round with seven points to spare.
NASCAR Wire Service, Joe Menzer