Denny Hamlin prepares for a NASCAR Sprint Cub Sereis auto racing practice at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) It has not been an easy march through NASCAR's playoffs for Denny Hamlin, who once again must race his way into the next round.
Hamlin was on his own at Talladega Superspeedway, a track that requires help from other drivers to be successful. Hamlin's teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing had too much to lose that day and rode around in the back of the pack. He needed a strong finish, and had to figure it out alone.
Now he again goes into an elimination race with the pressure on to pull off a big finish. Carl Edwards is the only JGR driver who already has earned a berth in the championship race, and Hamlin is competing with teammates Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch for a spot in the final four.
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All three of the JGR drivers are within two points of each other in Chase standings. Busch is tied with Team Penske's Joey Logano for the lead, with Kenseth one point behind them and Hamlin two behind. Hamlin finished third at Phoenix earlier this year.
''Phoenix was a good track for us in the spring,'' Hamlin said. ''I look to go back there and have another great run and go out there and try to win. That's what we're going to do. Any time I've been below (the cut line) in an elimination race, I've found a way to get in (to the next round).
''I like our chances. It's a pressure race and I like pressure.''
CREW CHIEF FINED
Team Penske crew chief Todd Gordon has been fined $10,000 because a lug nut was not properly installed on Joey Logano's car at Texas.
The penalty was the only monetary fine issued by NASCAR on Wednesday. But, five drivers were docked 15 minutes of practice time for inspection issues at Texas.
Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and Martin Truex Jr. all failed the pre-qualifying template inspection three times. AJ Allmendinger failed the laser inspection three times before qualifying. All will miss practice time Friday at Phoenix.
Matt DiBenedetto was cleared to race at Phoenix International Raceway after NASCAR held him out of one event because of a possible concussion.
DiBenedetto missed last Sunday's race at Texas Motor Speedway, where he was involved in a crash during the Xfinity Series race one day earlier. Jeffrey Earnhardt replaced DiBenedetto for BK Racing and finished 34th.
It was the first Cup race DiBenedetto had not started since early in the 2015 season.
DiBenedetto had said Sunday morning at Texas he felt fine and able to race, but said he had to respect the decision by NASCAR's doctors.
''They decided they wanted to err on the side of caution, which I understand,'' he said. ''They're doing their job.''
Alexis DeJoria has a concussion that will sideline the Funny Car driver from this weekend's NHRA Finals in Pomona, California.
DeJoria suffered the concussion in a crash during qualifying at the NHRA Toyota Nationals in Las Vegas, where her head hit the roll cage after the impact. She'll be replaced this weekend by Jeff Arend. DeJoria is not cleared to race, or even fly in a plane.
''I underwent a series of cognitive tests and the doctors diagnosed me with a full-blown concussion that required me to step away from the seat for the time being,'' she said. ''It takes two weeks for these symptoms to subside and even then, because of the trauma from the concussion, it would be unsafe for me to race this weekend.''
DeJoria missed two races earlier this season with a fractured pelvis.
Mercedes-Benz USA will race next season in IMSA's SportsCar Championship as Riley Motorsports will race two Mercedes-AMG GT3 cars in the GT Daytona class. One of the team's cars will run as AMG-Team Riley Motorsports, and the other as WeatherTech Racing.
The No. 33 AMG-Team Riley Motorsports entry will be co-driven by Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen, and the No. 50 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 will be shared by co-drivers Cooper MacNeil and Gunnar Jeannette. MacNeil and Jeannette got their first seat time in the car in a late September test at Germany's Hockenheim circuit.
Other cars announced for the new-look IMSA GT Daytona class next year include the Acura NSX GT3 and the Lexus RC F GT3.