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Denny Hamlin

"We couldn’t ask for a better place to end the regular season and start the playoffs than Richmond for us." (Photo: Getty Images)

A return to his home track of Richmond International Raceway might be just what Denny Hamlin needs to lock down a Chase spot in tonight’s Wonderful Pistachios 400.

Hamlin holds the second wild card spot as a transfer spot to this year’s Chase lineup and needs to maintain the position in Saturday’s final race of the regular season to make his way back to NASCAR’s playoffs.

But the Joe Gibbs Racing driver insists he doe not feel as much pressure coming into the 26th race of the season as he did in last season’s season finale when he was trying to overtake Jimmie Johnson for the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“It’s two totally different things,” Hamlin said. “The grand scheme, the bigger picture is a little bit smaller in this instance than it was last year.

“Homestead is not Richmond for me. It’s just different. When I come here, it’s just a different attitude, mentality for the whole race team, not just myself.”

Despite not performing as well as he did last year when he won eight races and went down to the wire in the title race, Hamlin is still confident he can make a charge over the last eleven races of the season and be a factor once the Chase begins.

He full understands why he sits outside the top 10 and trying to hold on to the wild card spot as the regular season schedule winds down.

“The reason we’re in this position is we haven’t sustained a ten-week run through the course of the year,” he said. “Ultimately, the championship winner will be the guy that sustains 10 weeks in a row of running good and minimizing his bad days.”

And as fate would have it the last race to decide Hamlin’s outcome as well as the rest of the Chase field comes at Richmond, where the Virginia native has been stellar throughout his Sprint Cup Series career.

Hamlin is a two-time winner at the .75-mile track and has led a staggering 1,188 laps in eleven starts to compile a 7.5 average finish.

With stats like that it’s no wonder Hamlin is feeling pretty good about his chances Saturday night.

“We’ve just always been strong here,” Hamlin said. “We couldn’t ask for a better place to end the regular season and start the playoffs than Richmond for us. That’s the good news.”

The way Hamlin sees it, even though there have been struggles over the course of the season to date, a solid performance and even a third Richmond win Saturday night would be the perfect way to launch him into the Chase and toward another championship run.

“Winning is everything and we come here with the mindset that we need to win, so we want to do that,” Hamlin said. “These last two years we won this race going into the Chase, it really gave us a lot of good momentum and it seemed like we had two good Chases in a row because of that.

“I’d like to end the regular season on a good note and not limp in on the last leg.”

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