Labor Day Weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway is already one of the top events on the NASCAR schedule. Thanks to Denny Hamlin, it has become even bigger.
Despite missing multiple races earlier this season, Hamlin still has a chance to earn a spot in the Chase for the Championship, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship format.
To qualify for the Chase, a driver must either be ranked within the top ten in the points standings or be among the top two drivers in wins among positions 11th through 20th.
Historically, drivers ranked between 11th and 20th have needed multiple wins to clinch wild card positions, so odds are that one win may not be enough for Hamlin to claim a spot in the Chase.
That's why the AdvoCare 500 could loom very large for Hamlin.
"There's all upside and really no downside to what we have in front of us," Hamlin said in a recent interview with USA Today. "We have an opportunity to have a great story at the end of the year if we can make it and be competitive in the Chase. And if we don't, we had a hill we just couldn't climb - and we're going to be tougher because of it."
Hamlin is currently 26th in the points standings, 74 points out of 20th place. His chances of a second top-five finish in a row were derailed Sunday with a blown tire late in the race. Hamlin has also won the pole position in the past two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races.
In short, Hamlin needs to win to make the Chase. There is no plan b. That journey rolls right through Atlanta Motor Speedway on Labor Day Weekend in the AdvoCare 500, where Hamlin is the defending race winner. If Hamlin and another driver come into Atlanta tied for a the final wild card spot, chances are pretty good that the mentality of the No. 11 team will be something along the lines of win or else.
There likely won't be any room for Hamlin to log a top-10 or even top-five finish. It'll be win or go home.
It is storylines like these which make Labor Day Weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway all the more compelling - as a fan or competitor!