The batting average for top seeds in the Chase for the Sprint Cup is not overwhelming.
In only two seasons has the No. 1 seed entering the Chase wound up on top of the standings at the end of the 10-race run. Tony Stewart started first and finished first in 2005, and Jimmie Johnson accomplished the same feat in 2007.
In other seasons, the champion has been seeded seventh (Kurt Busch), second (Johnson twice), third (Johnson twice) and ninth (Stewart last year).
None of those numbers, however, will lead Hamlin to voluntarily vacate the top spot as the Chase begins Sunday with the GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.
Hamlin lost a good shot at what would have been his first championship two seasons ago when he faltered in the final race and Johnson won the title.
This time, again in good position to reach what would be the pinnacle of his career, Hamlin promises a different approach. In 2010, he was on edge.
“It’s about, for me, having more fun,” he said. “In 2010, I was so serious and concentrating on every single race and overanalyzing every single thing that I didn’t enjoy the moment that I was in. I’m definitely going to have a lot more fun this time around.
“What took us out of the championship in 2010 really were a lot of different circumstances. I won't treat it any differently about the way I drive. I think I'll be a little bit more aggressive on restarts and not give up those one or two points when they really, really count.
“That will change, but, for the most part, I think I'll just be a lot more relaxed this time around. Obviously, our stuff is really good right now – as good as it was in 2010. I'm going to race week-to-week and not think about a championship until I get to Homestead (for the final race).”
Hamlin missed a shot at having a teammate in the Chase when Kyle Busch fell out of the second wild-card spot at last week’s race in Richmond. Still, Hamlin sees Busch as a possible plus over the closing 10-race stretch.
“I think Kyle is going to be probably way more aggressive the last 10 races than what we’ve seen him all year,” Hamlin said. “I think he’s probably going to throw caution to the wind.
“It’s good and bad. It’s bad that I don’t have a teammate in the Chase. But it will be good to have a guy like Kyle that can make some people’s world hell at times be a guy on my race team and one that could possibly help us.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.