NASCAR: Hamlin doesn't mind flying under the radar heading into the Playoffs

Given Denny Hamlin's current streak of five consecutive top-five finishes in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, is there another driver hotter than he is right now?

In the last month, Hamlin climbed from sixth to fourth in the standings against the cream of the crop in Cup. 

While Kyle Busch and Joey Logano have been duking it out for the regular season championship, the No. 11 Fed Ex Camry at Joe Gibbs Racing has been gaining steam with just three races remaining before the Playoffs.

“We are fourth in the points right now,” Hamlin said. “We are just a handful behind (Kevin) Harvick. We are somewhat in our own race. We would like to win stages. We would like to win this race, but if not, we are going to do everything we can to gain points on the three guys in front of us. We’ve scored the most points over the last six or seven weeks and, certainly, we’ve closed the gap on the leader in the points by a significant amount. 

“Maybe if they just have one or two more bad races in the next few, we could really make a run at getting up even higher in the points. That will pay us more playoff points, which will make our job to get to Homestead easier. We race each race individually to gain as many points as we can and grab as many playoff points as we can.”

With his second-place finish at Michigan Speedway, Hamlin picked up on everyone except race winner Kevin Harvick. Points leader Kyle Busch finished sixth and Joey Logano, who is second in the standings, ran out of gas with three laps remaining in the Consumers Energy 400 and finished 17th.

In his first season with crew chief Chris Gabehart, Hamlin has made significant gains returning to tracks for a second time. Michigan, where he picked up nine positions from his 11th-place finish in June, was no exception.

"Proud of the FedEx team for making great adjustments from the last time we were here,” Hamlin said. “Another good finish.

“We have done a good job in the regular season of getting playoff points and those are the important things you are going to have to have if you're going to get to Homestead. We’ve done pretty good so far; we're pretty happy about where we're at.”

With Gabehart calling the shots, Hamlin has steadily improved. Similar to Michigan, when Hamlin returned to Pocono last month, he won after finishing sixth at the track in June.    

“He’s just a great crew chief,” Hamlin said of Gabehart. “He does things a lot differently than I’m used to, but it has been working good, so I have embraced it.”

And it shows. Hamlin’s average finish of 9.4 this year is a career-best. Hamlin has scored three victories this year—his most since 2016. This weekend, Hamlin returns to Bristol Motor Speedway where he won the night race in 2012 and finished fifth in April.

"Looking forward to going back to the short tracks," Hamlin said. "It's fun for us to get back there and the Night Race is one we always look forward to."

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