The Frontstretch: No Bull: Hold On, Who's Winning the Points Race? Does Hamlin Know It? by Nick Bromberg -- Tuesday November 16, 2010

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If you were watching Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Phoenix, as a newbie or casual fan with no knowledge of how the 2010 Chase is going, you would have thought that Denny Hamlin’s 12th-place finish knocked him out of title contention.

Not the case. Hamlin has a 15-point lead over Jimmie Johnson.

Let me repeat that. Hamlin has a 15-point lead over Jimmie Johnson.

So there was no reason for this guy to be as publicly dejected as he was after Sunday’s race, right? Sure, he lost a great chance to bury Johnson — well, as much as a four-time defending champion can be buried — and cruise to a top-10 finish and a championship at Homestead. I get that. But remember, Hamlin is the one with a 15-point lead, which makes him the automatic favorite on paper.

After a disappointing finish on Sunday, Denny Hamlin just has to keep reminding himself, “I’m in the lead. I’m in the lead.”

The first two answers of the driver’s post-race press conference were one-line affairs. Maybe dejection isn’t an apt description of his mood.

But Hamlin and crew chief Mike Ford had to play the race the way that they did – just like Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus had to do the opposite if they wanted to stay in touch.

The No. 48 team didn’t have the car to catch Hamlin, and Knaus knew that. That’s why he had Johnson start to save fuel at the beginning of the run. Further ahead, Hamlin and Ford were racing for the win — they had the best car for the majority of the race — and when you’re racing for the win, you don’t immediately race for the fuel mileage game.

“Well, we don’t know if it’s the final caution,” Hamlin said after the race, explaining the strategy he seemed not to agree with in hindsight. “We could have made it. There were a ton of guys that made it that pitted at the same time we did. Usually, we have the best fuel mileage. That part I just don’t understand. I can save fuel pretty well. But I was never alerted to save fuel. So I assumed that everyone was going to have to pit. I didn’t even think it was a question. Like I said, I did my job.”

Whether or not that’s an implication that Ford didn’t do his job is something you can consider for yourself, but the crew chief said after the race that the team wasn’t getting good mileage all weekend, so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the team was going to be short. However, that said, mileage seems like something that everyone should be on the same page about. 12 miles is a lot of fuel to save.

(On a side note, how ironic would it have been if Hamlin would have been bailed out by a late debris caution? The same type of caution that he railed against after winning at Michigan?)

Sure, Hamlin didn’t land the haymaker that he thought he was going to, but this Chase is a 10-round fight. Just because you didn’t end it by a TKO in the ninth round doesn’t mean that your chances are all but gone in the 10th and final one, especially if you’ve outscored your opponent in those first nine.

Let me repeat it once again: Hamlin has a 15-point lead over Jimmie Johnson.

Hamlin took to Twitter late Sunday night to repeat that the title Chase wasn’t over, almost like he had to verify to himself and the world that Johnson hadn’t taken over the title race.

Remember, Hamlin has a 15-point lead over Johnson.

Hamlin’s been the best driver at intermediate tracks this season and Johnson has struggled. It’s a matchup that may make Hamlin the favorite even if he was 15 points down to Johnson. But if you’re the favorite — or even the underdog — you don’t act like you’ve been kicked in the groin when you didn’t succeed with time still left.

Hamlin has a 15-point lead over Johnson. And this weekend’s race at Homestead should be a doozy.

Contact Nick Bromberg

Tuesday on the Frontstretch:
FREE NEWSLETTER! BREAKING NEWS ON JEREMY MAYFIELD AND BRIAN FRANCE! CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP
5 Points to Ponder: Hamlin The Hunted, Pastrana/Patrick Peril, And To The Aggressor Go the Spoils
Who’s Hot / Who’s Not In NASCAR: Everyone BUT The Big Three
ABJ (Anyone But Johnson): Who Would Be the Best 2010 Champion?
Talking NASCAR TV: Pointing Out ESPN’s Obsession With Points In Phoenix

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NASCAR Easter Eggs: A Few Off-Week Nuggets to Chew On
Five Points To Ponder: NASCAR’s Take-A-Breath Moment
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Robin1
11/16/2010 06:31 AM
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Well, I think we can all agree that having a 15 point lead in the Chase means nothing. Now, if he was 115 points ahead, that would mean something.

Jacob
11/16/2010 08:45 AM
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I agree with you Nick. I keep saying it, this leaves Denny in a perfect position, he doesn’t need to outrace Jimmie to win the trophy. (For the record, I hate the chase, I will always hate the chase, and I hate the chase so much that I refuse to watch it.)
Jimmie’s team is not in its top form right now, and it’s not just the pit crew swap. Homestead is Jimmie’s worst track in the chase, usually he just needs to cruise to a 25th place finish, and this year he is in a go-for-broke position. All Denny needs to do is attach himself to Jimmie’s rear bumper and he is the champion, providing that his equipment holds together. But it’s almost like nobody has pointed that out to the team after Phoenix, I would expect Joe Gibbs would have pointed out the obvious.

VolcanoNacho
11/16/2010 09:12 AM
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Jacob, this isn’t an attack, but an honest question. How can you have a valid opinion and insight about the chase/nascar if you refuse to watch the races? That is like me performing brain surgery but not really worrying about getting my MD.

Jacob
11/16/2010 01:52 PM
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Ok, Volcano, here’s an honest answer, and not an attack.
I can formulate that opinion by studying the historical past of each driver, and doing the simple mathematical equation of how few points Denny can lose to Jimmie and still maintain the lead.
Just because I don’t watch the races, doesn’t mean that I don’t pay very close attention to na$car. I read every article at this site, plus I receive the daily news letter, I read all I can at AutoWeek, NASCAR.com, SPEEDTV.com, and FanHouse.com.
For those reasons, it is slightly different than picking up a scalpel and cutting into someone’s skull with no training, but it’s not an exact science by any means. Can I be wrong? Absolutely. I was completely wrong about Jimmie Johnson when he was first hired to drive the 48. Based on his Busch results, I thought he would race in Gordon’s shadow and never amount to much. Now without getting into a defensive posture, you would have to agree that right now, Johnson and his team are not performing at their very best. You would also have to agree that Homestead hasn’t been the best track for the 48 even when performing at the top of their game, so for those reasons alone, I say that Jimmie will have an uphill battle to claim the trophy.

VolcanoNacho
11/16/2010 03:13 PM
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Why spend that much time analyzing a sport that you dont enjoy watching? Seems like a rather large waste of energy to me. Isnt the point of professional sports to entertain?

Jacob
11/16/2010 05:56 PM
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You’re right, it’s more of an obsession than entertainment.
Don’t get what I say on this site wrong, I love stock car racing, but I hate what brian france has done to this sport. I won’t support their ratings, but I have too much time invested in the careers of my heroes to abandon it completely.

phil h
11/17/2010 12:11 AM
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hopefully the grandstands and the TV ratings will be up for this Three driver donnybrook at Homestead this weekend!
I’m no big fan of the chase either,but when it does workout this way down to the final race of the season,then we the fans are in for a wheel to wheel show at Homestead!