Denny Hamlin’s back and there’s no time to waste. Hamlin has 16 attempts to win enough races – and score enough points – to grab one of two Wild Card spots in this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™. It can be done. But it won’t be easy.
The Virginia driver will make his first complete start Saturday at Darlington since suffering a lumbar compression fracture in a final-lap incident March 24 at Auto Club Speedway. He ranks 31st in the standings – 76 points out of the top 20 and Wild Card eligibility.
A year ago, 20th-place Jamie McMurray scored 640 points through Race 26. Hamlin’s current total is 155, suggesting he’ll need an average finish of 13th just to reach last year’s total. Lap leader and winner bonuses could help.
Winning might be the least of Hamlin’s problems. Thirteen of his 22 Sprint Cup victories have come on seven tracks that host races between now and the Chase cutoff in early September – including Richmond, which ends the regular campaign.
He won at Darlington in 2010, a track where Hamlin’s average finish is 5.9 and his Driver Rating, 109.5, ranks third-best.
Joe Gibbs Racing hoped to keep the No. 11 Toyota among the top 10 in owner points during Hamlin’s absence. That didn’t happen despite Mark Martin’s 10th-place finish at Martinsville and Brian Vickers’ eighth in Texas. A trio of finishes of 31st or worse – including the Hamlin/Vickers placing of 34th at Talladega – has dropped the team to 19th in owner standings.