While we may not be in the Championship 4 yet officially, you can easily make a case that it’s title mode for the eight remaining drivers left in the NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series playoffs. See, with what’s at stake moving forward, you’re more than likely going to have to win not only this weekend but next too in Phoenix to take home the crown.
That’s why Denny Hamlin isn’t necessarily easing into Sunday’s Xfinity 500. He’s +32 in the standings and barring a disaster, he should advance onto his third straight Championship 4 appearance next weekend in Phoenix.
“I think we should be OK,” Hamlin said via a team release ahead of this weekend’s final race of the Round of 8. “But, of course, you just never know what can happen. I just need to make sure I get some stage points and don’t give it away early, and I think we’ll be alright to advance.”
Hamlin, starts third on Sunday and should have a great opportunity to get stage points by virtue of that. He finished second in both stages at Martinsville back in April and has had point in six of the eight first stages and seven of the eight second stages during this postseason.
The thing is, once he has those points, he wants to go win. He knows that no matter what happens, winning trumps everything and a win guarantees you a spot into the final round and then you don’t have to rely on your points.
“I’m confident in our chances at Martinsville,” he said. We’ve been very strong at these types of racetracks, and I’ll think we’ll have a really good FedEx Toyota when we go there. We want to battle for a win. Because if we’re in the battle for a win, we’ll be fine no matter where we finish.”
Hamlin, has won five times in 31 career Martinsville starts. He’s literally had a top five in half of those 31 races at that including leading 276 laps and a third place run this spring.
Plus, a strong run turns his momentum back around. He had two wins, four stage wins and 545 laps led in the first four playoff races. Over the last four, he’s had 33 laps led, no stage nor race finish better than fifth.
Part of that is circumstances. Talladega is Talladega. The ROVAL he was leading inside of top 10 laps-to-go. Texas and Kansas weren’t strong suits for Toyota’s 550 package. Now, we’re back to the 750 package which is better suited for he and JGR.
The other factor to all of this is momentum. Seven times the winner of the playoff race at Martinsville has gone on to win the title that same season – the most of any track on the Playoff schedule. Its happened two of the last three years at that including Chase Elliott winning the race and the season finale a week later at Phoenix just last year.
The other thing is, five times has the winner of the ninth race in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs has gone on to win the championship that same season too.
With a win needing to get by on Sunday and the Championship 4 being 7-for-7 having a final round driver winning the Cup race, why not get in the winning mode on Sunday?