LOUDON, N.H. — Denny Hamlin has had the fastest car at New Hampshire Motor Speedway all weekend during practice for the second race in NASCAR's Chase for the Championship.
He has moved pretty quickly in reverse, too.
Shortly after backtracking from a tweet in which he seemed to guarantee a victory, Hamlin ran in qualifying with the wrong pressure in his tires. Though that left him 32nd on the grid for today's Sylvania 300, Hamlin tried to sound positive about the second gaffe by his Joe Gibbs Racing crew in the first two weeks of the Chase.
"If there was nothing wrong, then I would really be shaking my head," he said. "At least we identified what the problem was."
Tied with Brad Keselowski for most victories this season, four, Hamlin is fourth in points after running out of gas and finishing 16th because his gas man failed to fill the tank on the final pit stop in the Chase opener in Chicago. Hamlin brushed off the error, saying on Twitter: "This is week 1 of 10. We will win next week."
The tweet was interpreted as a bold guarantee; one reporter compared it to Babe Ruth "calling his shot." But Hamlin said he was just trying to put the mistake behind him and look forward.
"I feel like I can go win each and every one of them. Really it's nothing more than that," he said. "People were just taking it a little further than that, but I'm racing — doing the best I can — and that's all I'm going to do."
Hamlin has done pretty well in New Hampshire, winning in 2007 and finishing in the top three in four of the previous six races. This time he led practice Friday and again Saturday.
In July, he led 150 laps but a miscommunication with crew chief Darian Grubb on the final pit stop over whether to change two tires or four left him mired deep in traffic.
Still, he made his way back to the front before finishing second to Kasey Kahne.
"He was really strong here in July," said Jimmie Johnson, who is second in points and starts 20th today. "I've kind of put him down as the favorite."
Hamlin entered the Chase as the leader, but this race is crucial heading into next week at Dover. He has never finished better than fourth in 13 starts there, with more results in the bottom five than the top five.
"That's why Chicago was so disappointing, because we wanted to maintain or extend our lead there … extend our lead here and then damage control at Dover," Hamlin said. "I think it's tough from my aspect that I have one weak racetrack in the Chase, but that's just part of it. I hope to excel that much better on my personal (best) racetracks."