Hamlin currently has the second-worst average finishing position of his career, yet it would surprise no one to see him advance to the Championship Four round. It has been that kind of season for him, and nearly every driver in the garage. Despite the roulette style races each weekend, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver feels good heading into this weekend.

Part of the reason why Hamlin seems more relaxed could be the fact that he has been strong on superspeedways. He is a two-time Talladega winner and qualified on pole in three of the last four races here. Hamlin has also seen a lot of things over the course of his 18-year Cup career. That includes the weird incident that took place last weekend at Texas.

Hamlin and William Byron got together a few times during the race, with Byron ultimately spinning Hamlin out under caution. "I can’t argue the rules with them (NASCAR) inside the car,” Hamlin said after the race. “The team did everything they could to try to make a case but ultimately we went spinning through the infield under caution. I guess we can just wreck each other under caution."

Although he was running in second when the caution waved, the spin put Hamlin outside of the top 15 on the restart. NASCAR did not allow Denny to get his position back, and he ended up finishing in 10th. He was frustrated with Byron, but even more so with NASCAR for not penalizing the young Hendrick Motorsports driver.

On Tuesday, the series finally took action and fined Byron $50,000 and docked him 25 points. Byron dropped from third to 10th in the playoff standings, which moved Hamlin up to fifth. The JGR driver now sits 15 points above the cut off line heading into the race this weekend.

After his numerous run-ins with Ross Chastain earlier in the season, Hamlin has vowed payback. While he hasn't delivered on it yet, he now has a new target on his radar. "I keep hearing these guys, but I’ll just add it to the list of guys when I get a chance they’re going to get it. It all just works itself out. We’ll be racing each other at some point and he’ll lose a lot of spots because he’s racing me."

Time is running out for Denny to exact his revenge. Talladega is typically not a place where a driver would do that, as it would likely trigger a massive accident on the superspeedway. Next week is a playoff race at the ROVAL, where four drivers will be eliminated. That could be the time and place for Hamlin to cash in.

This team has plenty of other issues of their own to worry about for now, though.

"We have left an enormous amount of playoff points on the table from DQs (Pocono) to lack of execution,” Hamlin admitted. “We're giving our opponents playoff points and we know that we’re going to be racing for a cutoff spot. This has been a frustrating year as a whole. I never actually would have imagined that we probably should have five or six wins with the Next Gen car."

With two of their cars out of the playoffs, JGR made the decision to swap the pit crews for Hamlin's No. 11 team and Kyle Busch's No. 18 car. The move was made in large part because of all of the issues on pit road that have resulted in penalties for the 11 team. While he was bummed for the guys that have been with him all season, Hamlin understood the reasoning.

"It’s certainly tough for those guys. I hate it because I love their attitude, swagger, and all of that. They are as important to this championship run as anyone but we had to do something different. The results at the end of the day, you know, the consistency was tough, but this is a JGR decision and they felt like this is the best avenue to getting the quickest results in the shortest amount of time."

The No. 11 team has been penalized 15 times in nine different races this season. One of those came at Michigan, ultimately costing them a win. "It’s just frustrating," Hamlin said after that race. "We’ve had really fast cars throughout the year but this is a piece of the puzzle that you've got to have to win races."

That might be what it takes next weekend to advance into the Round of 8 if things don't go well in the race on Sunday. Talladega is the very definition of unpredictable, and Hamlin's luck on the superspeedways has not been great this year.

After crashing in the Daytona 500 and finishing 37th, Hamlin suffered another at Atlanta and finished 29th. He was 25th in the second Atlanta race, got disqualified at Pocono to finish 35th, and crashed again at Daytona just before the playoffs began. In the Spring race here at Talladega, he finished in 18th, but will need to do better on Sunday.

Hamlin has the best average finish (5.75) among the 12 playoff drivers. He has finished inside the top seven in four of the last six races at Talladega. If he can do that again on Sunday, he could set himself up very well in the cutoff race next weekend. If he can avoid the wrecks, and his "list" of people, his first Cup championship just might come to fruition.