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Denny Hamlin resolute ahead of likely must-win Martinsville race

NASCAR: Cup Practice & Qualifying

Denny Hamlin certainly doesn’t want to be in this position, likely needing to win on Sunday at Martinsville to advance to the NASCAR Cup Series championship race but he is also a fan of sports and has great admiration for elite-level athletes meeting the moment.

His business partner, after all, is Michael Jordan.  

“There is an opportunity here,” Hamlin said on Saturday before practice and qualifying. “Certainly, we’ve had situations where we had our backs against the wall (and) needed to win or really needed to gain a lot of points to make it to the final four.

“Historically, we’ve done really well in these situations, with the exception of Ross’ (Chastain) move last year. We were behind and dominated and were well on our way. 2019 winning at Phoenix to get in. We’ve done well. I love those opportunities for sure.”

Again, he would rather be above the cutline than below it, but ‘there is an opportunity to kind of show what you are made of.’

Hamlin was very obviously dejected last week after a mechanical failure sent him into the wall at Homestead-Miami Speedway but he has felt more resolute and resigned to whatever outcome happens on Sunday.

He just signed a multi-year contract extension with Joe Gibbs Racing so this isn’t a last chance, but Hamlin also says a championship will not fundamentally change the level of pride he has in his accomplishments.

“I certainly know a championship will not change how I view my career and what I’ve accomplished,” Hamlin said. “It will only change, and probably not, change what others view of me. That’s the only difference that trophy would bring.

“I actually saw this week where someone asked Kyle Larson on how does a championship change you? He’s like ‘nothing at all, changes nothing.’ Mark Martin – you haven’t won one – what does it change? ‘Nothing.’ It is what it is.”

Hamlin says he has always wanted to be a threat to win on a weekly basis. He has 51 wins in 648 starts over the past 19 seasons.

“Sure, I would love to have the accolades, I really would but certainly, I’m not going to get too down on it,” Hamlin said. “Racing has afforded me a great life, and a great retirement plan with 23XI (Racing). I love this sport, and whatever the outcome is, it is. I’m certainly going to give it my all, and not regret any one thing and any result that has happened because I know I’ve given it my best effort for sure.”

Hamlin has 17 points he needs to make up on some combination of Tyler Reddick or Ryan Blaney on Sunday. Or, he needs to win and make the points a moot issue. The circumstances also make his mindset clearer for the race too.

“I can be on full offense for the full race this time around,” Hamlin said. “I don’t have to play D. I don’t have to be a little more careful. It’s just one mode right from the get-go.”

Ultimately, as resolute and resigned as he may be, don’t confuse that for indifference or complacency.

“Don’t get it twisted, that’s our goal, every year, to make the final four,” Hamlin said. “We want to win a championship but you have to win a race to do that. You’ve got to have a good series of events happen through the first 26, and really these three race seasons, we have leading up to it. It’s tough.”

It’s even tougher on the outside looking in of the final four.

Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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