CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Denny Hamlin’s not sure he could be more confident coming into the Coca-Cola 600 with how he has performed the past two weeks at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Hamlin, the winner of the All-Star race last week at the track, held the lead late in the Xfinity Series event Saturday before getting passed by winner Austin Dillon and taking second.
The big prize, though, comes Sunday night in NASCAR’s longest race — and Hamlin believes he has as strong a chance as anyone to finish on top.
Hamlin will start fifth Sunday, one of three Joe Gibbs Racing cars opening in the top five. Matt Kenseth sits on the pole and Carl Edwards is third. Hamlin said that’s a strong indication he’ll have a machine ready to compete at the end.
“I don’t feel like there’s anything I can do to drive harder or better,” he said. “You’ve got to hope you’ve got a fast car.”
Hamlin had the fastest car at the end last weekend, working his way out front after a quick final pit stop to pull away from Kevin Harvick in the final 10-lap dash. No one has swept both Charlotte weekends since Kurt Busch did it in 2010.
“Last week was a great week and on Thursday, Matt (Kenseth) getting the poll was a good sign as well,” Hamlin said. “So I’m pretty excited about tomorrow’s race.”
Hamlin is eager to chase the championship he missed out on year ago after finishing third in the Sprint Cup series behind winner Kevin Harvick. Hamlin took care of qualifying for this year’s playoff with his win at Martinsville in March.
“There’s some things about my car I wish I could change,” he said. “But that’s the tough part of NASCAR racing is that you’ve got to tune it and get the car handling as good as it can.”
The issue all teams face at Charlotte are changing conditions. Sunshine and heat when the race starts around 6 p.m., darkness and cooler temperatures about five hours later when racing for the checkered flag.
“It’s going to be a very, very big challenge to be good at both,” Hamlin said.
Hamlin likes how his crews have handled things at Charlotte so far. Hit pit crew posted a sub-11 second stop late in the All-Star race that was instrumental in the victory. In the Xfinity race, Hamlin fell as far as 21st before rallying — with the help of NASCAR rescinding a crew penalty after reviewing video — back to the top. He moved into the lead off a late restart, but could not hold off Dillon’s stronger car.
The good thing, Hamlin said, was the work his crew did in improving the car’s handling and power as the race went on.
If that happens Sunday, Hamlin’s got the driving part covered.
“As far as confidence is concerned, I’m as confident as ever,” he said. “I think our organization is starting to turn the corner and, hopefully, we get some good results this weekend and from here on out.”
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