Sprint Cup points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. has backed Denny Hamlin to return to title contention this season in spite of his injuries.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has been ruled out for around six weeks after suffering a fractured back in a crash with Joey Logano at Fontana last week. Yet Earnhardt believes that Hamlin can still be a factor in the battle for the championship once he returns, particularly given his proven ability to string together good results.
"It would be a tough challenge for me, because we're not a team that's out there winning multiple races," Earnhardt said. "So if I were in his shoes, I would feel like it was a very tall order. But with his team...they're a team that I look at and I say, 'Yeah, they can win three, four races.' That's the type of performance they've shown in the past few years."
The recently introduced wild card rule, which grants an entry to the Chase to the two drivers ranked between 11th and 20th who score the most wins during the regular season, could be particularly useful to Hamlin, Earnhardt believes.
"I don't really count him out at all with the new wild card rule," he said. "They can come back, put together a couple wins and be right in the middle of it. With the new wild card rule, it really opens it up for Denny and gives him an opportunity."