Hamlin Hanging on in Chase

Denny Hamlin

"We just have to do what we have to do and try to win races." (Photo: Getty Images)

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Denny Hamlin’s fourth-place finish in Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway kept him within 41 points of Sprint Cup Series leader Jimmie Johnson.

Even though Hamlin lost five points to Johnson, who finished ahead of him in third, after starting 23rd, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver was still pleased with his effort under the lights.

“We were stuck from like third to fifth all day and just couldn’t get it quite right,” Hamlin said. “There was some stuff that we put in our car that we just needed to fine tune a little bit ... didn’t have enough time to work on it during practice, but I think we have a good direction from here on out.

“We kept them in our sights, but that’s all we could do. We were a little bit off today, but it’s important that we get solid top-five finishes like this.”

Hamlin realizes he’ll have to up his game even further in the final five races of the season in order to rundown Johnson and claim his first championship. But he’s not disappointed at all with the way he’s been running and believes his team has what it takes to challenge for the title even though time is running short.

“You look at our average finish over these last few weeks and we’ve been up and down and some people think mediocre, but that’s been good enough to win the championship for probably two or three or four of the last four years,” Hamlin said. “Johnson is going to do what he’s going to do and run up front; we just have to do what we have to do and try to win races. I’m not disappointed at all.”

Johnson’s experience in winning the Chase over the last four seasons is considered a benefit by Hamlin, who also believes he’s gained a lot from being in title contention before as well.

That learning process has helped him eliminate mistakes in the first half of the Chase and Hamlin thinks it will continue to pay dividends down the stretch.

“He’s a champion and I’m not, he’s figured this stuff out and he’s got a great team as well as we do, but I haven’t hit the ‘go’ button yet and I feel like there’s still more left with our team,” Hamlin said of Johnson and the No. 48 team. “I’m minimizing my risk right now and I feel like if I’m going to have a shot to win this thing when we get to Homestead, I’ve got to minimize those risks. I can’t be sticking it three-wide on restarts and things like that.

“People do and I don’t. I take a little more conservative approach and it cost me five points here and there every couple races, but the main thing is that I’m not racing my way out of this thing these first five races.”

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