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And just what might Kyle Busch be up to these next 10 weeks, while those rivals are racing toward the championship? Jamming for Denny Hamlin perhaps

  Prime-time Denny Hamlin...more confident now than two years ago when he almost won the 2006 NASCAR championship. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Denny Hamlin has been playing at this championship game several years now, and he and crew chief Mike Ford look fairly confident about their chances in this fall's chase, after two wins (Richmond and Pocono) in the past few weeks.
   Last season they wound up eighth after the Homestead finale. In 2007 they missed the cut -- a year after coming within just 68 points of winning the championship.
    So what might this year's sprint have in store for them?
   Well, for one thing, Hamlin might have teammate Kyle Busch as a jammer. Busch missed the playoff cut last weekend, and now he's footloose and fancy free.
    And Busch says he'll do what he can to help Hamlin in the title run.
   Hmm, just what might that really mean?
   "Like maybe if he's right in front of me, he'll let me have a spot, or something like that," Hamlin says.
    "But I doubt he's going to take out guys that I need him to take out."
    Then again…."I think he has some scores to settle with some guys -- that I don't think he'll be too shy about doing now," Hamlin added.

    The championship benchmark, clearly, is the Rick Hendrick operation. But Hamlin says his Joe Gibbs guys are gaining: "We're 50 percent better than what we were at the beginning of the year.
     "If they're the best, we've gained on them by 50 percent in a lot of different areas: Our engines have gotten better. Our chassis we've gotten better. 
    "I think we're headed in the right direction.
    "We're more competitive now.  We're racing for wins more often.
     "In years past I've competed for probably five to six wins (a season)…been in it with 25 to go, or something like that. 
     "Now it's more like every single week we're in the top two or three cars and have a chance to win. 
      "When you have more chances to win, you're going to win more. 
      "That's why I'm confident that we can win at least one or two more races before the end of the year."
    Besides, it may be time for the tide to turn against the Hendrick guys, who have had things their way for so long.
     "It's tough when you're on top, like those guys are, to stay on top. They've been able to do it the last five years," Hamlin says.
    "It definitely doesn't hurt them having five or six cars on the track with five or six of the best drivers either."
     Hamlin says the championship team will likely have to win at least two chase races. But he doesn't expect to see a sizzling 5.0 average finish this season, like Jimmie Johnson once pulled off.
    "Jimmie wins a lot of races each year, and he's been the benchmark," Hamlin says. "In the past few years I think he's won three leading up to the chase.
    "I think the average finish will be higher; it won't be a five-point-whatever to win the championship. I don't think that's possible with the double-file restarts --  It's such an equalizer, and it allows so many people back in the game late in the race."
    Indeed, the double-file restarts have changed a big part of the game, especially for the first four or five laps after a restart.
    But Hamlin insists the key to winning this chase is simple: "For the most part, you're going to need to make sure you stay out of trouble. That's the biggest thing."
    Well, that, and keeping cool…which is frequently quite hard to do in this sport.
    Keeping cool and avoiding frustration after a bad day.
    "I've been in the chase three years, and I haven't won it…so I know what not to do," Hamlin says.  "You can't let one race get you down.
    "You can go on a roll in these last 10 races and really perform well. 
     "I got impatient when I had a bad race early in the chase the last couple years, and it has cost me. You've got to maintain your confidence, no matter what happens the first two or three races…and maintain your composure."




This is the Denny Hamlin I like to see. Not whining about his team or blaming races on his crew. This isn't the Denny Hamlin, that is counting the number of races he should of won, each year. This is the Denny Hamlin I thought we would see, after his rookie year.

Those two wins have put him

Those two wins have put him in a good mood for the chase...and he came close to winning the title a couple of years ago.

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