Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway will have plenty of eyes on it as two spots remain open for the Championship Four at next weekend's season-ending race at Phoenix. Denny Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 team find themselves 17 points below the cutline as the Virginia native looks to once again get to victory lane at one of his home tracks and punch his ticket into championship contention.
After wrecking out of last weekend's race at Homestead, the No. 11 team has their backs against the wall if they want a shot at that elusive championship. Despite being outside the championship, both Hamlin and his crew chief, Chris Gabehart, remain confident that they will qualify as one of the four teams eligible to win the title.
The point margin between Hamlin and Ryan Blaney, who currently holds the final spot, isn't that much, so it isn't necessarily a must-win situation for Hamlin, though a victory at Martinsville would automatically qualify the team for the championship deciding race. Gabehart knows what his driver can do, and the team is ready to give their driver everything he needs to race into the Championship Four.
Gabehart spoke with Jim Utter from motorsport.com about his driver's chances, and he knows Hamlin won't let the pressure of the situation get to him.
"It would be hard to think of a position that would be more exciting, that's for sure, and for so many reasons," Gabehart said. "We're below the cutline, a team that's worthy of getting (to the Championship 4), driver has 51 wins, hasn't won a championship, clearly deserving, tons of wins at Martinsville, always has the audience's attention and we're super capable. You add all that together and throw it in a cauldron, it's sure going to make for an exciting day. I think that's great. The relevancy of that, lose or draw—is what anyone can hope to sign up for."
The position that Hamlin and his team are now in comes as a bit of a surprise given they have been one of the favorites for the title throughout the 2023 season. Now with one race left to go to make it into the championship, the No. 11 team might be in a desperate situation but as Gabehart tells Utter, it's a place that his driver and team relish.
"You want to be on the grandest stage when the spotlights are on and everyone is paying attention to the stage, you want them to be paying attention to you, as you should...and hopefully, we can capitalize on that."
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