Denny Hamlin looks to Kansas to ‘lock in’ his Cup title chances

Denny Hamlin believes it will take a win in the semifinal round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs to race for the championship and looking at the tracks involved, he likes his chances.

While Kansas Speedway hasn’t always been a strong spot for Hamlin, he and his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team have recently had a stranglehold on Victory Lane.

Hamlin has three career wins at Kansas, including the last two races dating back to last fall. With a victory at Kansas earlier this year, Sunday’s race looks like a prime candidate for Hamlin to punch his ticket to the Championship 4.

“Kansas has not always been my strongest suit. I was terrified of Kansas probably a few years ago, but I showed up to the playoff race there last year and my car was just absolutely incredible how well it was handling, how good it was,” Hamlin said.

“I remember I started mid-pack, maybe in the 20s, and just drove to the front and dominated the day. From that point on, once I create that good database for Chris (Gabehart, crew chief) to work off of, it seems like when we go back to the track, he’s made the proper adjustments for weather and conditions and things like that, car changes.”

Solidifying his title chances

In addition to Hamlin, the only drivers to have won consecutive races at Kansas are Matt Kenseth (2012-2013) and Martin Truex Jr., who won both races at the track during the 2017 season.

While Hamlin (seven wins) and Kevin Harvick (nine wins) stand out above the rest of remaining playoff field and could advance to the title race without a win, Hamlin knows an early win in the semifinal round can put a driver and team in a better position.

In two of the last four years, the winner of the first race in the semifinal round has gone on to win the series title.

“Hopefully I have another really good handling car like I’ve had in the last few races. If so, I know it’s an important one for us,” Hamlin said.

“We could go the next two weeks and really shift our focus from Texas and Martinsville to putting all of our resources towards Phoenix, and that would certainly be a benefit for whoever locks in right off the bat.”

Always a threat

Texas and Martinsville also bode well for Hamlin’s chances at picking up one or more wins in this playoff round. He owns three career wins at Texas (most recently last spring) and five at Martinsville (most recently in 2015).

“I think we can beat anyone any given week,” Hamlin said. “As long as we execute the way we know how, it really doesn’t matter if you pick the four strongest drivers at Phoenix – or the three other strongest drivers – it wouldn’t make a difference.

“We think it’s going to take a win to do it (advance to the Championship 4), and to win, you have to beat everyone.

“I know that we are a championship team regardless of whether we have the trophy or not.”

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