Denny Hamlin is all too familiar with how hard it is to make it into the championship round at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Since his appearance in 2014 during the inaugural year of the elimination format, Hamlin has not since contended for the championship. The Talladega wild card in 2015 brought his season to an end in the second round and last year Hamlin was eliminated in the third round.
It’s the third round again that could be Hamlin’s downfall. But it will not be for lack of effort by the Joe Gibbs Racing driver.
Last year, Hamlin averaged a 6.3 finish in this round with results of third, ninth and seventh. Good but not good enough.
Going into this weekend’s race at Phoenix, Hamlin again has satisfactory results on his stat sheet with a seventh at Martinsville and third place Sunday in the AAA Texas 500. It gives him an average finish of fifth. Yet he sits 19 points out of a transfer spot on the playoff leaderboard and very well could be looking at a must-win situation.
“Depends on what our competitors do. Obviously, our competitors are running up front,” Hamlin said. “We probably need to win, most likely, which is amazing. It’s the second year in a row, the third round, where I average [about a] top-five finish and that ain’t going to be good enough. It needs to be better.
“But it’s about winning races. That’s what we’ll go next week and try to do.”
Hamlin has one Phoenix win in 24 starts.