Despite knee injury, Denny Hamlin supremely confident entering Chase

RICHMOND, VA - SEPTEMBER 11:  Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 GoDaddy Chevrolet, Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, and Justin Allgaier, driver of the #51 Brandt Chevrolet, stand on pit road during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway on September 11, 2015 in Richmond, Virginia.  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

RICHMOND, VA – SEPTEMBER 11: Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 GoDaddy Chevrolet, Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, and Justin Allgaier, driver of the #51 Brandt Chevrolet, stand on pit road during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway on September 11, 2015 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

RICHMOND, Va. –  How confident is Denny Hamlin that he’ll advance to the Championship 4 Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup at Homestead-Miami Speedway?

So much so that he hasn’t even contemplated the prospect of surgery to his injured right knee, if he’s eliminated in one of the earlier rounds of the Chase.

“Actually, had not even thought about being eliminated—that’s how confident I am right now that we’re not going to (be). If we do, I don’t know. You want to finish the year strong and I think the way the points all work out you still can move up to fifth or something like that.

“I think, either way, off-season is going to be the best option (for surgery) as long as I can make it that long.”

Hamlin tore the ACL in his right knee playing basketball on Tuesday night. It’s not the first time his ardent pursuit of hoops has interfered with his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career. In the spring of 2010, Hamlin tore the ACL in his left knee and had surgery during an off week but didn’t miss a race.

This time it’s the right knee, which faces less stress with the gas pedal than the left leg does with the brake. With the Chase looming, Hamlin has chosen to postpone surgery and put up with the discomfort outside the car. He showed up in the media center at Richmond International Raceway on Friday as he prepared for Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN), aided by a single crutch.

In a league basketball game, Hamlin hit a driving layup at the end of regulation play to send the contest into overtime. He tore the ACL in the extra period. But the mishap hasn’t quelled his optimism about his chances for a championship, a confidence that extends to the entire Joe Gibbs Racing roster, which also includes Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and last week’s Darlington winner, Carl Edwards.

“I think our cars are obviously very good right now,” Hamlin said. “And, yeah, there’s no reason why… we all said in January that our goal is to have four cars at Homestead with a chance to win, and I don’t see — except for bad luck — anything that can keep that from happening.”

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