LAS VEGAS — In many eyes, Denny Hamlin is the favorite heading into the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ playoffs.
This comes as a complete change from a year ago where he had zero wins and was quickly eliminated from contention after the Round Of 16. Now, with four wins to his name, it certainly changes the narrative around the No. 11 team.
“It certainly puts us in a better position,” Hamlin told POPULAR SPEED. “I mean, when you think about how our championship was won, it’s based off of going out there in the regular season, building yourself a buffer through performance, and just getting to Homestead. And it’s all about a one-race shootout after that.”
Hamlin started his season on a high, winning the Daytona 500 and seemingly has not slowed down, capturing 13 top-five’s and 17 top-10’s. All of this has given him 30 additional playoff points ahead of the playoff and gives him the advantage with the opportunity to gain more.
Having the excess playoff points is going to be beneficial for Hamlin and, with as many as he has, it may have people painting him as a lock for the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
However, Hamlin is staying away from the mindset of looking into the future, instead choosing to live in the present, and tackling each race one at a time.
“We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves,” Hamlin said. “We’re going to play this week by week. We’re not looking forward to Richmond next week or the Roval the week after. It’s all in on Vegas this week and trying to figure out what we can do to win this week. And we know we’ve got the performance to do it right now.”
After finishes of 32nd, 16th, and 12th last year in the Round Of 16 in 2018, it is understandable why as though the 38-year-old is taking this approach. However, there should be no reason to doubt Hamlin, especially with how he has run of late.
In the last eight races, he has only finished outside the top-10 once and finished inside the top-three five times. In addition to that, Hamlin also has the best average finish (seventh) in the last six races. Meaning, even with his disappointing the 29th finish at Darlington Raceway, he has still set the standard that all drivers are chasing.
The only question surrounding Hamlin is can he finish the job? He has been close before but, this may be his best opportunity to capture his first championship.
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