Denny Hamlin is in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. He knows that. Despite all the new winners this season, it never was a concern of his on whether they’d be postseason bound or not.
“We were never worried about it. We knew our weekly performance would get us in whether we won or not,” he said prior to this weekend’s race in Michigan.
The main problem on his end was staving off a furious comeback pursuit by Kyle Larson for a regular season championship.
They entered Indianapolis last weekend tied atop the standings with Larson charging hard from being over 144 points arrears at one point back in May to leading Hamlin by 22. It’s the first race since Daytona’s road course that Hamlin isn’t in the points lead.
With only three races left, it’s down to the two of them against each other for the award of 15 additional playoff points.
Hamlin, needs that since he only enters this weekend with five of them total on the season. Plus, 15 playoff points are the equivalent to three race wins which is also something Hamlin doesn’t have yet.
“Now we just need to try to get ourselves in the best position and the most points we can get before the playoffs start,” he continued.
It’s starts this weekend in Michigan. A track he’s happy to be going to where he’s familiar with.
“There’s definitely something to be said for familiarity when it comes to racetracks,” he said. “Last week was pretty messy with it being the first time that course was set up for Cup cars. We’ve made some progress on our intermediate program this season, so I’m looking forward to going to the Michigan oval this week.”
Hamlin has a pair of runner ups in his last three Michigan starts. He also has two wins, nine top fives and 15 top 10s in 30 career starts in the Irish Hills.
On Sunday, we got out 14th different winner in 24 races this season but this one isn’t playoff eligible. AJ Allmendinger isn’t going for points in Cup this year, so despite his win in Indianapolis, it doesn’t count towards the postseason.
That in turn clinches a playoff berth for Hamlin as he now sits +293 on the playoff grid. For him vs. Larson, he was -2 heading into the final stage since both elected to give up stage points and pit before the end of each stage. Larson, had such a good car, he still scored two stages points in the second one despite that.
But, as we were coming to the final restart, Hamlin was leading and Larson in fifth. The advantage would go back to him. Then, Chase Briscoe got into him and the rest is history. He’s now 22 points behind Larson heading to Michigan.