Hamlin still faces an uphill battle

LONG POND, PA - JUNE 09:  Darian Grubb (R), crew chief of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, and Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, stand on the grid prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Party in the Poconos 400 at Pocono Raceway on June 9, 2013 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

LONG POND, PA – JUNE 09: Darian Grubb (R), crew chief of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, and Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, stand on the grid prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Party in the Poconos 400 at Pocono Raceway on June 9, 2013 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

LONG POND, Pa.–On the surface, Denny Hamlin had a pretty good day Sunday at Pocono. He finished eighth and moved one spot closer to 20th in the standings (25th). On the flip side, Hamlin is now two points farther out of the 20th spot than he was when the day started.

Hamlin is 76 points behind Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 20th, a deficit he must erase in the next 12 races to be eligible for a wild card spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Hamlin, who missed four events with a compression fracture of his first lumbar vertebra, also must win at least one race, probably two.

At Pocono, Hamlin was down on horsepower with his engine tuned more toward reliability and less toward peak performance than it had been in prior races.

“It was a tough day,” he said. “It’s about where I thought we would end up, but we need wins, and we’re going to have to be aggressive and do everything we can to do that.”

On a day when power was an issue, Hamlin’s pit crew stepped forward.

“They picked me up five spots on that last stop, and that’s incredible,” Hamlin said. “They’re keeping us in it, and hopefully we’ll get us a win (at Michigan) next week.”

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