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Hamlin: Speed Overcomes Experience In Playoffs

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 28 2017

Denny Hamlin said fast cars are the key to success in NASCAR these days. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Rusty Jarrett)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Half of the drivers remaining in NASCAR’s playoffs for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup championship have earned a title in the series, but Denny Hamlin said Saturday he doesn’t believe that experience gives them an advantage like it once did.

“I think it’s about the speed that you have now,” Hamlin said at Martinsville Speedway during preparations for Sunday’s First Data 500. “Kyle (Busch) got it a few years ago and (Kevin) Harvick got his first a few years ago before that, so I think it’s all about how you’re performing at this given time.

“I think if this is a race over the course of a season or the old format where it was a race over 10 races, experience really kind of pays off. But I believe any time that you have just a one race shoot-out for a championship, it’s about who’s the fastest and that’s it.”

Busch won his championship in 2015, while Harvick collected his in 2014. The other two champions in NASCAR’s Round of Eight are Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski. Johnson claimed his record tying seventh championship last year and Keselowski secured his title in 2012.

Ryan Blaney, who’s giving the Wood Brothers their first shot at a championship, said he didn’t even know there were four series title holders remaining in the playoffs.

“I don’t really pay attention to that,” Blaney said. “All I know is we got into the next round. They’re just other guys I’m racing. I respect everybody, what they’ve done, and I’ve looked up to a lot of those guys growing up racing. I watched them when I was just getting started, but they’re just other racers. That’s how you have to look at it. You can’t get intimidated or things like that because then you’re already kind of behind. I feel like when we worry about ourselves we’re our best; when we’re not paying attention to everybody else.”

Martin Truex Jr. entered Martinsville, the first race in the playoff round to determine the final four, as the point leader. He, like Hamlin, Blaney and Chase Elliott, is seeking his first championship. Hamlin, Blaney and Elliott were sixth through eighth, respectively, in the points. Busch, Keselowski, Harvick and Johnson owned points positions two through five, respectively. At least one driver will gain admittance to the championship round via points, but it could be more if there is a repeat winner at Texas and Phoenix.  

“I’m already behind the eight ball,” said Hamlin, who entered Martinsville sixth in the standings, 55 points behind Truex. “I think that we can make up a lot of points this weekend with stages and things like that. Over three races last year I averaged sixth and I didn’t make it (to the final four). You want the guys that have a point lead on you to have good days and essentially win.”

Blaney said he hadn’t figured the number of points he needed to earn in the next three races to assure entrance into the championship race via points, but he knew stage points were “huge.”

“You can probably run 10th in every single race in this round and not advance,” Blaney said. “Stage points matter. I think you’re gonna have to get at least 12 to 15 stage points a race and finish inside the top 10 just to even have a prayer because the competition is so good right now.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 28 2017
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