Denny Hamlin: Sprint Cup Chase Not a "Two-Horse Race"

Ben Montedonico@@NASCARBRBenContributor IIISeptember 26, 2012

Will the title race come down to Denny Hamlin(11) and Jimmie Johnson(48) again?
Will the title race come down to Denny Hamlin(11) and Jimmie Johnson(48) again?Chris Graythen/Getty Images

This feels awfully familiar, doesn't it?

With five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson atop the standings two races into the Chase and Denny Hamlin fresh off a dominating performance at New Hampshire, the 2012 championship race seems as though it could mirror that of 2010.

Two years ago, the title battle came down to a virtual two-man race between Hamlin, who led the series in victories that year with eight, and Johnson, the eventual champion.

Once again, the two drivers are battling it out again, with Hamlin holding the series lead in victories with five, and Johnson sitting on top in the points.

With eight races to go, however, a lot can still happen. Especially with four drivers within 10 points of the lead, and all but Jeff Gordon less than a full race behind the top spot.

Denny Hamlin knows that.

"As far as making it a two-horse race, I think it's too early to do that," Hamlin told the media on Tuesday's NASCAR Teleconference. "I think that there's still a lot of mistakes that can be made on both sides that could allow a lot of guys to perform."

One of those guys is Brad Keselowski, who actually sits ahead of Hamlin in the standings, just one point behind Johnson in second.

"The No. 2 car is obviously very strong right now, so you're not going to count him out," Hamlin goes on. "Really, there's no one you can eliminate until five races to go."

Besides Keselowski, who has four wins on the season, several big threats are still very much within striking distance through two races.

Tony Stewart, the defending Sprint Cup champ who won five Chase races a year ago, sits just 10 points out of the lead in fourth. Kasey Kahne, who's been one of the hottest drivers on the circuit since early summer, sits just 15 points back in fifth.

In other words, this championship battle is wide open.

"There's no one you can eliminate until five races to go," Hamlin continues. "If you're over a race out with five to go, and you've got to leapfrog probably three or four guys, your chances are very, very slim. These guys are too good. You can't make mistakes."

Still, the third-place points man believes he's good enough to atone for his heartbreaking 2010 finish this time around, especially if the title race does come down to him and Johnson.

"I think our performance is as good, if not better, than what it was in 2010," he goes on. "For me, I think that's the only thing that will keep us from being in contention once we get to Homestead is our early mistakes or mechanical failures."

"If we don't have those, I think our performance is good enough to carry us to championship contention once we get to Homestead."

All quotes were obtained first-hand via NASCAR Teleconference with Denny Hamlin unless otherwise noted.