The Frontstretch: Fact or Fiction: Can Denny Hamlin Recover? And Is Harvick Still In It? by Mike Lovecchio -- Sunday November 14, 2010

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Jimmie Johnson pulled within 15 points of the championship lead going into the final race at Homestead, putting himself back into position to take a record fifth consecutive title.

Denny Hamlin is the early favorite going into Homestead

It’ll be talked about over and over again to the point you’re sick of hearing it before next Sunday’s season finale in Homestead, but the No. 11 team’s late-race fuel miscalculation will be under a microscope if for whatever reason he doesn’t leave Miami with the Sprint Cup. Denny Hamlin had Sunday’s race in his grasp, leading the most laps (190), but in the end it was Jimmie Johnson who led the Big 3 with a fifth-place finish and is now 15 points out of the top spot despite never challenging up front. So what that leaves with one race remaining is an interesting question… who is the driver to beat going to Homestead? It could be Hamlin, who had the four-time defending champion on the ropes all day, the defending champion himself who salvaged what would have been a disappointing day with the best one of the championship hopefuls, or the regular season points leader, Kevin Harvick, who is stalking in third place and has the best average finish of the three at Homestead.

In the end, you have to give the edge to the team that’s been here before. Johnson and Chad Knaus put themselves in position to effectively control their own destiny next weekend by having a maximum points day; if they lead the most laps and win the race, they’ll take the championship no matter what Hamlin does. I expect the No. 11 team to come out and have a good day, but dangle the title in front of the No. 48 and you’ll see the type of effort that has won them four consecutive Sprint Cups.

Make that five.

Denny Hamlin should not have pitted for fuel

As for the call that put Johnson and Harvick within striking distance, if the fuel mileage on the No. 11 is as bad as crew chief Mike Ford thought it was, they couldn’t afford the gamble. It may have been tough for Hamlin to swallow, but he still has a points lead with one race remaining. If he had run out of fuel, he wouldn’t be in as fortunate of a situation and the landscape going into the final race of the season would be much different. The ten-to-fifteen spot difference between running out on track would have easily cost Hamlin the point lead, putting him back in an underdog role with Johnson holding all the cards. My favorite still remains Johnson, but thanks in large part to a conservative call, Hamlin is in a position that he would have dreamed of at the beginning of the season.

He’d do well not to forget it.

The title will come down to Johnson or Hamlin

All of the talk this week will revolve around Johnson and Hamlin, and rightfully so as their deficit is the narrowest ever going into the final race of the season. But the driver sitting in third place, a mere 46 points out of the lead, may be the driver to watch out for at Homestead. Not only does Kevin Harvick have the best average finish of the three at Homestead, but he’s got nothing to lose. Whatever Hamlin or Johnson do pit strategy wise, the No. 29 can do the opposite. If it comes down to fuel mileage, Harvick will be the one to stretch it. Barring an accident or mechanical problem, if this team is on the lead lap in the final stage of the race they have a legitimate shot to pull the upset, with their driver the one to have the camera on in the final laps.

Contact Mike Lovecchio

Monday on the Frontstretch:
Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: Phoenix-2 Race Recap
Running Their Mouth: Kobalt Tools 500
Bubble Breakdown: Brendan’s Bad Day Gives A ‘Front Row’ Opportunity For Underdogs
Blast From The Past: Who Could Benefit From A New Nationwide Series In ’11
Nationwide Series Breakdown: Wypall 200
Tracking The Trucks: Lucas Oil 150

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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Carl D.
11/15/2010 08:24 AM

I have to disagree with you on Harvick’s chances. If either Hamlin or Johnson have a top 5 next week, Harvick loses the championship even if he wins the race. I’m pulling for him, though.

11/15/2010 08:30 AM

I don’t know Mike, Kevin might have the best average finish of the three, but Denny is more consistent that Jimmie. I think Denny is in the best position. He just has to follow Jimmie all day and Jimmie can’t beat him. Homestead isn’t the track for the 48 to beat everyone else silly, and Johnson’s team doesn’t appear in their top form right now anyway. The Achilles’ Heel for the Gibbs teams (for several years) has been their consistency. The best chance for the 48 to win, comes off the 11 having an equipment failure.

11/15/2010 09:45 AM

Denny is still in the best position. He’s been consistently stronger on the 1.5 mile tracks than the 48. Denny is also great at Homestead. I just don’t see Jimmie at this point dominating at Homestead. He could do it, but I don’t see it. Under the NASCAR points system the leader always has the advantage. Unless Jimmie wins, Denny just has to get his bonus points and keep the 48 close.

11/15/2010 10:04 AM

You wonder how well Jimmie with run at Homestead. He hasn’t had to race hard in about 4 years at that track. That has to have some bearing on the race this weekend. Hope Chad took some good notes.

11/15/2010 01:02 PM

I wonder why Hamlin enjoys superior horsepower yet expects good gas milage too.

Colin Baird
11/15/2010 01:06 PM

I have nothing but respect for Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin, but Kevin Harvick can just flat out drive a race car. We all know that Harvick’s car is not up to the same standards as Johnsons, nor is it on even par with the Gibbs Toyotas. That being said, there is no one that gets more out of a sub-par race car than Kevin Harvick. Harvick passed a lot of cars yesterday. He started 29th and worked his way up to 4th before he got penalized for a missing lug nut. Harvick returned to the track in 19th place and ended up with a 6th place finish. Put Harvick in a Hendricks Chevy or a Gibbs Toyota, and the race for the chase would have been over four weeks ago. Give NASCAR 42 more drivers like Harvick and the seats will start filling up at the tracks on Sunday again. Win, lose or draw, Harvick is one hell of a race car driver.

11/15/2010 04:24 PM

Well said Colin Baird. Harvick is the regular season champ now let’s see if he can take the 10 race championship. It is going to be close but my money is still on the 29 car.

11/15/2010 06:34 PM

Wrap it up Kevin.You can get them.

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