Marshall’s Mind Blog: Is Hamlin A Title Threat? Count On It.

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Blog by Race Chaser Online Mid-Atlantic Correspondent Marshall Gabell – Jerry Markland/Getty Images North America photo –

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that Joe Gibbs Racing pilot Denny Hamlin has been unable to climb the highest mountain and capture an elusive Sprint Cup Series championship following a successful eight seasons in the league – however, in a months time that could all change.

With four races remaining before a champion is crowned at Homestead next month, Hamlin has put his No. 11 team in the midst a heated title battle after surprisingly consistent performances at Kansas Speedway (7th), Charlotte Motor Speedway (3rd), and at Talladega Superspeedway last weekend (18th).

And, remarkably, it’s shaping up to be an even more impressive Eliminator Round for the overlooked Virginian.

Hamlin will attempt to put his Chase nation into the season finale at Homestead beginning this weekend at a venue he’s earned four-career victories at – his home track, Martinsville Speedway.

Martinsville – at 0.526 miles in distance – is the shortest track on the circuit and a track that fits what Hamlin came from: short track racing. After earning three poles and nine top fives at the ‘Paperclip’, it’s evident that this weekend is his chance to embark upon a lifelong dream: winning a championship.

“I have said all year that if we made it to the final eight, to this Eliminator Round, that we suddenly had a good shot at this championship,” Hamlin explained earlier this week. “This round has three tracks that our FedEx team has had a lot of success at over the years, obviously starting with Martinsville.”

“We didn’t have a great race there in the spring, but we have made some gains on our short track program, and I’m confident we can go there and compete for the win this weekend. Winning on Sunday is our ultimate goal and it would be great to put ourselves in position to battle for the championship at Homestead.”

Supposing that Hamlin secures the win this weekend, it’s almost expected that with his exceptional record in Homestead that he would be able to then claim his first championship.

Hamlin has earned two victories (in 2009 and again last year) at the challenging 1.5-mile circuit to go along with a total of four top five and five top ten finishes through nine career-starts at the Miami oval.

Hamlin has repeatedly said that if he gets another chance to go to Homestead in position to win a Sprint Cup title like he had in 2010 (when Jimmie Johnson overhauled him to claim his fifth-straight crown) that he would not let the opportunity escape him a second time.

“I’ve been begging to have that opportunity again,” Hamlin stated in regards to the Chase and contending for his first series championship. “I said just challenge me and put me in that same position again and see how it all plays out, especially going to a racetrack where we’ve had a lot of success. I think if you put us in the Final 4 at Homestead, how are we not a favorite at that point?”

Hamlin also has one more impressive stat at the South Florida track that could just make him the favorite he was hoping to be when the season began – he’s completed all but a mere five laps in his Homestead career, something that could be a factor if the No. 11 is featured in the championship fight come November 16th.

And even if Hamlin doesn’t clinch his spot in the Final Four this weekend, he will still have two more opportunities – Texas and Phoenix, both tracks where he’s been victorious – to lock up his spot in the final four.

Remarkably, Hamlin is one of only two drivers – the other being four-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon – still remaining in the Chase Grid that has wins at all three tracks in the Eliminator Round, a stat that will benefit both drivers in their quest towards the Sprint Cup Series title.

Hamlin says at this stage of the game, it’s anyone’s championship – including his.

And oh, by the way? That’s including the fact that he missed the race at California in March with a sliver of metal in his eye, if anyone’s forgotten.

“You have as good a shot as anyone at this point,” Hamlin said simply during the Eliminator Round press conferences on Tuesday. “We’re going to three very different racetracks than what we race most of the year. Really there’s 30 restarts, 30 pit stops that are going to happen between now and Homestead. One could define, to the good or the bad, of you racing for a championship at Homestead or not.”

To make a long blog short, the rest of the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup has Denny Hamlin written all over it.

Most people said he would change from a dark horse to a favorite for the championship if he made it past the first two rounds.

Well, he’s still here, isn’t he?

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