Denny Hamlin is trying to make his 4th consecutive Championship 4 appearance. In order to get there however, he just has to stay above the cutline over the next 2 weeks. Right now, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver currently resides in 4th in points and holding the 4th and final wildcard spot, 6 points ahead of William Byron.
However, he’s also only 11 points shy of Chase Elliott for 3rd. Both start in front of him on Sunday with Byron on the pole and Elliott in 3rd. Hamlin rolls off 14th. That’s something he was fearful of.
The main point to get better at is qualifying he says. If they can get better on Saturday’s, then their next three Sunday’s will go a lot better. It’s just that their Saturday at Homestead wasn’t much better than it’s been recently which saw his 5 year pole streak here come to an end.
“”It’s up to me and the engineers and Chris Gabehart to figure out how we can come off the truck better (for qualifying),” Hamlin said. In qualifying, all of us were kind of off. It’s just something we have to work on. “Right now, I don’t believe we’re the heat by any means, but we’re executing well, and that’s something we didn’t do well early in the season. I love (Homestead) for sure. We unloaded best, but the field caught up to us (at the test). It’s a track I love racing at, the driver can make a difference with so many options. In the end, have to execute and not make any mistakes.”
7 of the last 9 Homestead winners came from the top 5 of the starting lineup. 4 of the last 6 at Martinsville came from the top 5 including 11 of the last 13 coming from the top 10.
7 of Hamlin’s last 10 qualifying efforts have seen him start outside the top 10. He qualified 24th on the ROVAL and 31st last week in Vegas. If they want a chance, they have to qualify better.
Which is why for them, Saturday’s can translate over to Sunday wins for the 11 group. Joe Gibbs Racing’s next win is its 200th and would make it the third organization with at least 200 wins. That’s even more extra motivation for Hamlin to ensure he’s the driver that gives them that.
Still, Sunday’s not all lost. He can still get to the top 5.
Hamlin swept both stages and took the win at Homestead in 2020 and was 11th last year. He also had a Top-5 car in both Darlington races earlier this season too and enters having scored a top 5 finish in 2 of the last 3 races on the season now.
Then it’s to Martinsville to where he’s admittedly struggled at lately. Four of his last five Martinsville finishes have seen him come home 11th or worse (28th in the spring).
The thing is, he’s actually more confident heading to the next 2 tracks then worried and that’s because they’ve had the chance to test at each to figure out a better sense of where he improve.
See, Hamlin’s a talented driver. He’s one of the best in the NASCAR garage today. He didn’t forget how to drive Martinsville, a track he’s won 5 times at. It’s just that others have improved there and with a myraid of changes to the racing package plus a new car, it’s affected them. The thing is, these test days helped them figure their deficit out.
“We tested Homestead. We have a baseline there so we know we aren’t going to venture too far from there. Same with Martinsville, we tested there.
“Now that we’ve created some more data points we can lead into next year. We just need a little more potential in the car to have more speed.”