As Denny Hamlin spun out and came to a stop with just over 200 laps to go in Saturday night's NASCAR race at Bristol Motor Speedway, the first thought that came to his head was, "Of course. It's our luck."
But with extreme patience – at a level he said he hadn't used since his rookie season – Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing team were able to battle back to a much-needed seventh-place finish.
"We did what we had to do," Hamlin said afterward. "I wish I could race harder and I wish I could do all those things, but at this point we have to have solid finishes. This is all the car would give me today."
The top-10 result was a relief to Hamlin, who moved up to 13th in points but more importantly stabilized his position as the No. 2 wild card holder.
Hamlin is now 41 points ahead of Paul Menard for the final Chase wild card spot – though he could lose it if Menard or Clint Bowyer (12th place) win one of the next two races.
That seems unlikely, though, and last year's championship runner-up seems poised to return to the playoffs.
"If we just handle business the next couple weeks, then we'll be OK," he said. "I feel a lot better. It's been a while since we've completed a race and been able to finish where we're capable of finishing."
Hamlin credited his pit crew for helping the team to a solid result.
"They did an awesome job," he said. "Made up spots every time."