Denny Hamlin needs to make up 19 points on Brad Keselowski on Sunday if he wants a chance to race for the 2017 championship.
Friday, Hamlin said that deficit was entirely possible to be erased.
“I mean, we beat him by 15 points last week and he only finished two spots behind us, so I mean it’s possible for sure,” Hamlin said. It just depends on how the first part of the race plays out, honestly.”
Hamlin finished third at Texas while Keselowski finished fifth. The 15-point gap happened because Hamlin ran up front most of the day. Keselowski, meanwhile, was a lap down three laps into the race after he pitted at the end of the first lap because of a cut tire from contact with Kyle Busch.
That pit stop meant Keselowski spent the first half of the race simply scrambling to get back on the lead lap while Hamlin was earning 13 points through the first two stages of the race.
So while Hamlin is right — it would be possible to pass Keselowski in the points standings and make the final four (provided Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson don’t win the race) by finishing just a few spots ahead, it’s a scenario that’s only made possible if Keselowski has early race trouble again. If Keselowski gets stage points in the first two stages, Hamlin could be staring a win-and-in scenario in the face.
“Like I say, until the first half of the race plays out, we don’t know what we need to do,” Hamlin said. “I think we’ll have a better idea after those first two stages. But then I think it’s what strategy do you take for that final restart – do you stay out or do you pit? It definitely has the potential to be pretty crazy on restarts knowing that you have some agendas out there that will be a win or nothing.”
Hamlin was one of those drivers who made a crazy pit move late last year. He stayed out on old tires late in the race but was toast when a caution came out on the next-to-last lap, setting up an overtime restart where there wasn’t enough time for Hamlin to pit and take advantage of fresh tires.
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