Denny Hamlin's Back Injury Makes Chase Dreams Difficult

Chad Robb@@MrFantasyNASCARCorrespondent IMarch 29, 2013

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 14:  Driver Denny Hamlin   poses during portraits for the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2013 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

Denny Hamlin came into the 2013 season as one of the favorites to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. Although his path to the championship became more difficult last week, he still has a chance to win his first championship.

Last week at Auto Club Speedway, Hamlin was racing Joey Logano for the win. The two have been feuding for weeks, and the situation did not improve after they crashed each other on the final lap.

Hamlin hit the wall and suffered a fracture to his vertebrae. He will be out of the race car for six weeks as a result of his injury.

Mark Martin has been named the driver of the No. 11 Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing while Hamlin recovers from his injury. Martin will drive the car and earn points for the No. 11 team in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Owner's Championship, but a driver’s points are used to determine who makes the Chase.

Since Hamlin will go six weeks without earning any points towards the Chase, his chance of finishing in the top 10 has been eliminated. The only way Hamlin can make the Chase is to get in on a wild card.

The last two wild card spots in the Chase are awarded to the drivers who win the most races. Hamlin is a good driver at all racetracks, so he can win at any time. He will need to come back from his injury with winning races on his mind.

Going to victory lane after an injury is not impossible. In 2011 Brad Keselowski broke his ankle and returned four days later to win the 500-mile race at Pocono Raceway.

Hamlin, who was once considered a favorite for the 2013 Championship, now has his work cut out for him.

But if any driver can make the Chase after missing six weeks of the season, it's Hamlin. It will not be an easy accomplishment, but it will be fun to watch as the 2013 NASCAR Sprint season plays out.

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