Denny Hamlin won Michigan’s Sprint Cup race back in June. If he can repeat the feat this weekend, he might have a few more fans than usual.
Hamlin is 12th in the points standings and is in line to earn one of two wild card spots for NASCAR’s postseason, but if he can move into the top 10 it could open a wild card chance for someone else. That’s one of several subplots as drivers scramble to qualify for the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup. There are four races remaining in the regular season.
“One extra win, by myself or someone else, completely changes the game,” Hamlin said.
The top 10 drivers and the two drivers with the most victories in 11th to 20th place earn spots for the Chase. Right now, Brad Keselowski has the inside track to one wild card. He’s in 14th place with two wins. Hamlin has just the one win from earlier this year at Michigan International Speedway, but that might be enough, since nobody else chasing a wild card spot has more at this point.
Paul Menard (15th place) has a victory as well, so he can give his chances a major boost by winning again.
“Our focus, even more so than before, shifts to getting the second win and doing all we can to try and get that second win,” Menard said. “Throwing the dice on the table and seeing what we’ve got.”
NASCAR introduced the wild card before the start of this season, and it could set the stage for some aggressive racing among drivers who realize finishing first — and only first — could help them jump into the championship race.
“That’s what the points system and movement was made to do — is give guys an opportunity that don’t quite have the consistency but still have the opportunity to race for the Chase,” said Kurt Busch, who is in good shape in sixth place.
Hamlin drives for Joe Gibbs Racing, which has had at least 11 engine failures this season in either practices or races. He’s going to use a Toyota Racing Development engine this weekend. JGR is merging its engine program with TRD.
“We have to do what we have to do to make sure we finish races at this point,” Hamlin said.