Most people counted Denny Hamlin out of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup this year after his accident at Auto Club Speedway that crushed his vertebra. The injury kept him out of the car for a handful of races while first Mark Martin then Brian Vickers filled in for him.
At Talladega Superspeedway, Hamlin and team were hoping that substitute Vickers could pull down a solid finish that would help them out in the points standings after a driver switch under caution. This was not to be as Vickers got caught up in one of the Talladega Big Ones and finished in 34th.
While Vickers was only able to garner ten points for the team, Hamlin still rode to Darlington Raceway with enthusiasm to get back in the car and get to work on the difficult task of grabbing a Chase wild card spot. Hamlin performed admirably at the Lady in Black as he usually is able to and pulled off a nice runner-up finish that picked him up four spots in the points standings.
Still there is a long road ahead for Hamlin who has been a serious Sprint Cup contender in the Chase multiple times. In order to crack the top 20 in points by Chicago he will have to get an average of 29 points per race.
This certainly isn’t impossible for this Joe Gibbs Racing driver, but there is no room for mistakes or bad weeks. He will also desperately need a trip or two to victory lane to lock down the wild card race for a spot in the all important Chase. Hamlin proved at Darlington that he is still a force in NASCAR and has a very real shot at the Sprint cup.