Denny Hamlin has elevated his game this year with the help of a microphone and a popular new podcast that provides insight into the career of the driver considered the best in NASCAR history to never win a Cup Series title. In his weekly “Actions Detrimental” podcast, produced by Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s media company, Hamlin holds nothing back and sounds like a man determined to end his championship drought in his 18th season.
Unfortunately, a mechanical failure at Homestead-Miami Speedway has put Hamlin’s season at risk as he enters the last qualifying race for NASCAR’s title-deciding finale. Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell have already secured their spots in the championship race, leaving Hamlin and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. tied 17 points below the cutline going into the showdown at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia.
Despite the pressure, Martinsville is Hamlin’s favorite track. With five career wins at the short track, the Virginia-raised driver believes victory is his only guaranteed path into the finale. However, he also says that winning the race is not a necessity for advancing. Both Hamlin and regular-season champion Truex can still earn a spot in the final without a win, but they must overcome their points deficit.
“I’m not in a must-win situation,” Hamlin said on his podcast, “but I guarantee you I will be on kill right from the get-go and treat it as a must-win.”
There are six drivers vying for the final two spots in the championship race. William Byron is likely to advance based on the bonus points he’s accumulated, while Ryan Blaney represents Ford’s best chance at a championship car. Hamlin, Truex, Tyler Reddick, and Chris Buescher are all below the cutoff.
With Larson already through as the 2021 Cup champion, Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports have one driver in the finale. Additionally, Toyota and Gibbs are represented by Bell, Larson’s longtime rival on dirt tracks.
KYLE LARSON: Larson has already secured his spot in the finale for the second time in three years. His recent strong performances have given him room to prepare for Phoenix. Although he hit sand barrels at Homestead last week, he won at Martinsville earlier this season and finished second in last year’s race.
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Bell clinched his spot in the championship race with a win at Homestead. He is racing in the finale for the second consecutive year and has had a strong round of eight, finishing second at Las Vegas. His Martinsville win last year propelled him into the championship race.
WILLIAM BYRON: Byron is in a strong position to make the finale with a 30-point cushion. However, a bad day at Martinsville could ruin his chances. He has a win at Martinsville in 2022 and has consistently performed well at the track.
RYAN BLANEY: Blaney is the last Ford driver with a chance to make the championship race. Coming off a second-place finish at Homestead, he has shown strength on intermediate tracks. His Martinsville record is solid with a ninth-place average finish.
TYLER REDDICK: Reddick has been performing well for 23XI Racing in the round of eight, but it hasn’t been enough to put him in contention for the championship. His best finish at Martinsville is 18th, and he is facing tough competition.
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Truex has had a difficult playoffs, with a blown engine at Homestead adding to his misery. With three wins at Martinsville, he has a chance to make a comeback, but he likely needs a victory to secure his spot in the finale.
DENNY HAMLIN: Hamlin’s season is in jeopardy after a poor race at Homestead. However, with his impressive record at Martinsville, he still has a chance to turn things around and make the final four.
CHRIS BUESCHER: Buescher has exceeded expectations by making it to the round of eight, but his chances of advancing further are slim. He has yet to win at Martinsville and is the only driver in a true must-win situation on Sunday.
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Olivia Carter revs up excitement in the world of NASCAR. As a dedicated motorsports enthusiast, she covers race results, driver profiles, and the latest developments in the NASCAR world, keeping fans on the edge of their seats.