Hamlin still on the outside looking in

FORT WORTH, TX - NOVEMBER 03: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Office Toyota, practices for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on November 3, 2017 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

FORT WORTH, Tex. – Denny Hamlin did almost everything right on Sunday afternoon.

Despite his best efforts, however, the driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota left Texas Motor Speedway in a good-sized hole.

Hamlin started Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 from the front row beside pole winner Kurt Busch. He led the first 46 laps, 65 overall. Hamlin was in the top spot for the final restart on Lap 289 and rolled home in third place behind winner Kevin Harvick and runner-up Martin Truex Jr., scoring 47 points for his efforts.

But with Harvick and Truex both clinching spots in the Nov. 19 Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and with Kyle Busch, Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate having done the same last week at Martinsville, Hamlin has two options as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Phoenix for next Sunday’s final event in the Playoff’s Round of 8.

If Hamlin hopes to compete for a title at Homestead, he either must win the race or make up a 19-point deficit to fourth-place Brad Keselowski.

“Yeah, we probably need to win, most likely, which is amazing,” Hamlin said. “It’s the second year in a row, the third round, where I average inside a top five-finish, and that ain’t going to be good enough.  It needs to be better.

“But it’s about winning races. That’s what we’ll go next week and try to do.”

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