Clock ticking on Denny Hamlin's Chase chances

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 24, 2013 at 12:28 pm •  Published: June 24, 2013
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He was quick Sunday to dismiss his back injury as the performance problem.

"I feel fine. There's nothing that I feel in the car that keeps me from performing better," he insisted. "Missed the setup a couple weeks and had bad stuff happen. It's just frustrating — can't get a finish."

When asked if he's still considering getting out of the car this year, Hamlin said it's too soon.

"Not until it absolutely can't happen, or even think about it," he said. "Really, like I said, my physical status is not keeping me from performing well. It's other things at this point."

Those other things are that Hamlin doesn't believe his Toyota is at the same performance level as JGR teammates Kenseth and Kyle Busch. In the six races he's been back, Kenseth has a win and Busch has four top-six finishes. While Hamlin was on the same pace as his teammates when he first returned, he believes he's taken a step back in the last few weeks.

"They're performing better than us, that's for sure," he said. "Honestly, that's the benchmark we need to set ourselves at — our teammates. We should be able to run with them. We've been at the tail end of the trio for the past couple of weeks.

"But, you could argue for the first three weeks we were back, we were the best car. It's circumstantial, you get all emotional over a couple bad weeks."

So Hamlin indeed has his work cut out for him at those "wheelhouse" tracks, beginning Saturday night at Kentucky, where he finished third last season. Then it's off to Daytona, where anything can happen, but Hamlin is usually in the lead pack of cars and in the mix for the win. Then it's New Hampshire, where he's a two-time winner and has 10 top-10 finishes, and Indianapolis, where he started from the pole and finished sixth last year.

He'll head into this critical stretch of the season with the same game plan he's had since his return.

"I don't think my strategy changes at all," he said. "I think I continue to try to win every week and do all I can, just trying to get a good finish at this point."

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