Hamlin: Johnson still the favourite

Chase leader Denny Hamlin believes reigning champion Jimmie Johnson is still the favourite to win this year's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title

Hamlin: Johnson still the favourite

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver won the final event heading into the championship play-off, which was his sixth victory of the year, and beat Johnson to the top spot of the standings for the deciding final 10 races.

Last year Hamlin was one of the strongest drivers in the Chase, taking top three finishes - including two wins - in six out of the 10 events. However two engine failures and a crash caused him three non-finishes that ruined his chances of contending for the title in the season finale.

Despite the likes of four-time champion Jeff Gordon picking the 29-year-old as favourite to beat Johnson, Hamlin does not think he is the target rivals will be aiming at from Sunday at Loudon.

"The #48 [Johnson] is definitely the favourite, with the #29 [Kevin Harvick] right behind him, in my eyes," said Hamlin. "One has shown the consistency to win the championship this year and the other has shown that when it comes to game time, he is ready to play. In my eyes, we haven't won one yet. We're 0-for-4, so it's time for us to step up."

However Hamlin does not deny that this season is probably his best chance ever to win his first NASCAR title. Besides Johnson, Hamlin is the only driver who has been in the Chase in every championship he has entered since the format was implemented.

"We set up our team at the beginning of the year to bring out our best race cars in September and late August and we've done that," said Hamlin. "The last three weeks, and including this week, our car has speed, and that goes a long way. It makes the drivers look good. It makes everything look good because you've executed a game plan and I feel like we've done that.

"The wins in the first part of the season, to me, were almost flukey in the sense that we didn't expect it and circumstances worked out and we won a bunch of races. But, we didn't have our best stuff at the race track.

"This is the point where we see where we stack up with our competition over the next few weeks and from what I've seen over the last couple of weeks, it looks like our stuff is going to be pretty competitive."

Hamlin, who was affected by an injured knee due to a torn ligament at the beginning of the year, has shown great speed at all kinds of tracks this season, taking wins on both short and intermediate ovals.

Two of his six wins this year came at Martinsville and Fontana, tracks that he will visit once again during the Chase. He also dominated at Atlanta two weeks ago until an engine failure put him out of the race.

"I think the biggest thing is we're competitive everywhere, competitive as in we can win races anywhere," Hamlin said. "We've shown we can win races and that means we've been up front a lot during the course of this season.

"For as many wins as we've had, we've had second and third-place finishes as well. That means we've been up front a lot during the season and that's what it's going to take to win the championship - a low average finish and making sure you have everything in line and prepared in case something does happen.

"Even if you have a bad race or two, if you consistently run in the top two to three positions every week and put yourself out there to possibly win a lot of races, I think you'll be a contender."

Hamlin's best finish in the Sprint Cup came in his rookie season, when he was third in the final standings.

shares
comments
Keselowski scores surprise pole
Previous article

Keselowski scores surprise pole

Next article

Bowyer wins as Stewart runs dry

Bowyer wins as Stewart runs dry
Load comments
How Larson took the long way round to NASCAR Cup glory Plus

How Larson took the long way round to NASCAR Cup glory

From villain to hero, Kyle Larson’s journey to the 2021 NASCAR Cup title comes straight from the Hollywood blockbuster scripts. While Larson had to reach his lifelong goal the hard way and go through a very public shaming after a ban for using a racial slur, his talents shone long before his name grabbed the headlines for both the right and the wrong reasons

NASCAR
Nov 10, 2021
How NASCAR is gearing up for its "biggest change" in 2022 Plus

How NASCAR is gearing up for its "biggest change" in 2022

It’s not just Formula 1 that’s set for upheaval in 2022, as the NASCAR Cup Series adopts its Next Gen cars that will cast any in-built advantages aside and require teams to adopt a totally new way of operating. Far more than just a change of machinery, the new cars amount to a shift in NASCAR's core philosophy

NASCAR
Oct 12, 2021
Why Bubba Wallace’s Talladega win is such a big moment for NASCAR Plus

Why Bubba Wallace’s Talladega win is such a big moment for NASCAR

Bubba Wallace claimed his maiden NASCAR Cup Series at Talladega on Monday to become the first Black victor in the category since Wendell Scott in 1963. Both Wallace and Scott had faced obstacles and racism in their paths to their breakthrough wins, and NASCAR is trying to put it right with its range of diversity programmes

NASCAR
Oct 5, 2021
Why NASCAR's most resilient driver has landed on his feet at 23XI Plus

Why NASCAR's most resilient driver has landed on his feet at 23XI

In a career that has had many ups and downs, Kurt Busch has been written off many times before. But facing career uncertainty after the sale of Chip Ganassi's NASCAR team, the 2004 Cup champion has found a new berth at Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan's 23XI organisation - which underlines his enduring value

NASCAR
Aug 31, 2021
The F1 nearly-man winding back the clock in NASCAR’s European cousin Plus

The F1 nearly-man winding back the clock in NASCAR’s European cousin

A multiple F3000 race winner, Marc Goossens was on the precipice of making Formula 1 in the 1990s - but a lack of budget left him without a path to the promised land. Turning to an illustrious racing career in sportscars, Goossens left the endurance circuit to try his hand at racing stock cars - and now calls the NASCAR Euro Series home

NASCAR
Jul 1, 2021
Why a British prospect is trying to make it in NASCAR Plus

Why a British prospect is trying to make it in NASCAR

There has never been a full-time British driver in the NASCAR Cup. But Alex Sedgwick, who is rising through the stock car ranks, wants that to change and could be a trailblazer for European talents to reach the top echelons of the NASCAR ladder

NASCAR
Feb 28, 2021
How Earnhardt’s death changed American motorsport Plus

How Earnhardt’s death changed American motorsport

It's 20 years since legendary driver Dale Earnhardt Sr died at the Daytona 500, but the legacy of his crash continues today through the pioneering safety work done by NASCAR

NASCAR
Feb 18, 2021
The NASCAR subplots to keep an eye on in 2021 Plus

The NASCAR subplots to keep an eye on in 2021

This weekend's Daytona 500 kickstarts a NASCAR Cup season that promises plenty of intrigue courtesy of new owners and a refreshed calendar. Here's what you need to know ahead of the new season

NASCAR
Feb 12, 2021