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Coming to peace with that came after sessions with sports psychologist Bob Rotella, who helped Hamlin last year when he couldn’t shake the blues following his 2010 loss to Johnson.

“The one thing I learned with ol’ Bob Rotella is you’ve got to live in the moment,” Hamlin said. “Whatever happens, happens. I’m not going to live in the result. I’m just going to do the best I can at that particular time.”

And, he plans to tune out all the talk when the Chase begins. He is convinced some will chalk him up as the guy who coughed up the title in 2010.

“I know what I am going to hear if we are in it toward the end _ `Is this deja vu? Has he turned it around? Has he learned from (2010)?’” Hamlin said. “For me, I don’t care anymore. I don’t care that people thought we lost the championship in the last race. Well, we did.”

Joe Gibbs Racing president J.D. Gibbs said the organization was unaware of how badly Hamlin struggled after losing the championship.

“I didn’t see him physically struggling last year, but obviously there was something there. It was a hard year,” said Gibbs. “I think you learn. I think you learn things you need to do differently. He’s always pretty confident, although last year he was shaken a little bit. But he’s in a good place.”

Hamlin wants to shake off any pressure and make his mark in NASCAR. He insists he’ll be fine wherever he ends up at the end of the season.

“All I can do is the best I can do. If it’s not good enough, then it’s not good enough,” he said. “I am going against who in my opinion is the best driver in NASCAR history, Jimmie Johnson. If I beat him at year’s end for the championship, then I’ll consider myself the best, at least for one year.

“I have no question in believing I am as good as anyone. But I think until you have a championship people are not going to give you the respect they give the Stewarts, the Gordons, the Johnsons. You are just going to be that middle of the road guy that people are just hot and cold about all the time.”