NASCAR Sprint Cup: Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick Look for Mulligans from 2010

Hank EptonCorrespondent INovember 21, 2010

HOMESTEAD, FL - NOVEMBER 21:  (L-R) Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Toyota, stands next to the Sprint Cup trophy with Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, and Kevin Harvick, driver of the #29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 21, 2010 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jerry Markland/Getty Images

In the wake of one of the most hotly contested Sprint Cup Championships in history, both Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick already have thought about what could have been.

For Hamlin, he leaves Homestead with the distinction of being the only points leader going into the race not to capture the championship.

For Harvick, a season in which he dominated the points race for much of the year ended up in a third-place points result.

Denny Hamlin had his title hopes begin to slip away after early race contact with the No. 16 car of Greg Biffle.

“Our car was really fast at the beginning. I mean, just unbelievably fast at the beginning, and I knew we had a car that could contend for a win, and obviously when we got in that incident on the back straightaway, it tore up the front and knocked the toe out and obviously the car did not drive as well for the rest of the day.”

From there, the chance to win his first Sprint Cup championship became an uphill struggle, but he acknowledged that his backstretch miscue today wasn’t his first problem in the Chase.

“There (were) a lot of circumstances in which we had an opportunity to win the championship. You know, by the numbers, fuel mileage was one contributor factor,” he said, alluding to last week’s late pit stop that proved costly for the FedEx Toyota.

Kevin Harvick didn’t escape the Ford 400 without his own mistakes either, getting hit with a costly speeding penalty that left him making up for lost ground for most of the closing laps.

“I don't think that penalty will ever settle in my stomach. When you read me off of my pit road times of 49.6, 49.4 50.8 and then 49.6, and there's only a handful people that get to see them, I won't ever settle for that.”

Just a few races ago at Martinsville, Harvick complained that his teammate Jeff Burton was “out of mulligans.” Today both Harvick and Hamlin could look back at the 2010 Chase for the Sprint Cup and think of mulligans they would have liked to have.

Harvick mused the mid-Chase pit crew swap would have made a difference earlier.

“For me I would take the first five back with the pit crew that I had the last five.”

Hamlin remained focused on the squandered opportunity of last weekend, when a fuel mileage race proved so costly in his march towards a title.

“I don't know how it would have turned out for the fans. Obviously there would not have been as much hype about the race because we could have coasted, I guess you could say, to a win today. But you know, like I said, there's many, many aspects of a winning race team, and you've got to have all of those parts and pieces put together.”

Both drivers will be left to mull the twists of the last ten races as Jimmie Johnson came from behind to record his unprecedented fifth straight Sprint Cup title, but they take the positives from Homestead.

"I feel like we had a solid year. We had a really good car all year and just, you know, yeah, you can take away the fact that we are coming off of our best year ever. I still know that there's—I've got to get better in a lot of areas,” said Hamlin.

For Harvick, the 2010 season caps a remarkable turnaround from a disastrous campaign in 2009. With a new sponsor lined up for next year, the 2010 success is something to build on.

“The guys, we came out of the gate strong. We ran strong all year. And in the end, we came up a little bit short but from where we were last year to this steppingstone, for us to build on is a whole lot better than where we were a year to go to be consistent racing for championships."