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Hamlin Names Favorite To Win Chase Championship

| Senior Correspondent, RacinToday.com Wednesday, September 10 2014

Denny Hamlin says he can win the Cup championship this year, but he says he is not the favorite. (RacinToday/HPP file photo by Garry Eller)

By Mark Armijo | Senior Writer

PHOENIX, Ariz. – Should Denny Hamlin fail to satiate a hungry quest to collar a coveted Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup trophy, a shiny piece of hardware that narrowly escaped his clutch four years ago, he has a fairly strong opinion as to which driver will eventually ensconce himself with the champion’s wreath.

Jeff Gordon.

Not that Hamlin’s already waving a white flag.

Despite only one win compared to the seven multiple-winning drivers ranked ahead of him in the 16-driver, 10-race playoff, which begins Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway, Hamlin believes he is championship worthy.

“I would say, kind of based on how we’ve been running the last couple of months, that we’ve been an elite eight team,” Hamlin said Wednesday during a Chase promotional visit in Phoenix, site of the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 Nov. 9 at Phoenix International Raceway. “We’ve got to be a bit faster and qualify a little better to get in the Final 4 (at the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway). But we’re definitely capable of getting to the final eight.

“If we get to the final eight, I feel like we’ll at least have a shot at it because we’ve won at Phoenix (2012) and we’ve also won at Texas (two wins) and Martinsville (four wins).”

Races 7-9 (Martinsville, Texas and PIR) in the Chase format comprise the “Eliminator” round. Following the Phoenix stop, the Chase field will be reduced from eight to four drivers.

If Hamlin is not one of the four remaining contenders, he believes Gordon is the favorite to add a fifth championship crown.

“I like Jeff Gordon’s chances in the sense that he’s been around the block and knows what these things are all about,” said Hamlin, who finished runner-up to 2010 champion Jimmie Johnson. “He’s had fast cars and he’s qualifying well. He’s got that ‘it’ factor going for him.

“Even though it’s been awhile since he’s won a championship (2001), but from the sample size we’ve seen (the regular season), he’s at the top of my list.”

Hamlin, however, also won’t rule out series leader Brad Keselowski, whose four wins top the driver charts.

“If that team continues to do what they’ve done already, I don’t see why they wouldn’t be part of the championship picture,” said Hamlin, who enters the Chase ranked No. 9 in the No. 11 FedEx Toyota. “Based on their speed and handling, those two Penske cars (Joey Logano and Keselowski) are very capable. I’d put the 22 (Logano) and 2 (Keselowski) in my Final 4 bracket.”

| Senior Correspondent, RacinToday.com Wednesday, September 10 2014
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