Denny Hamlin: Chances of Making NASCAR Chase for the Cup

S. DixonContributor IIIApril 3, 2013

FONTANA, CA - MARCH 22:  Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, stands on the grid after qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 22, 2013 in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Denny Hamlin had a chance to win the race two weeks ago in Fontana. However, he and Joey Logano got tangled up. That led to Hamlin suffering a compression fracture in his back. Now, most believe Hamlin’s 2013 championship hopes are over.

He is out for the next five weeks as Mark Martin and Brian Vickers act as substitute drivers. When he returns, Hamlin will have to average a top four finish over the course of the season to make the Chase, per George Diaz. That is a highly unlikely scenario.

However, Hamlin’s race to his first Sprint Cup Series championship is not officially over. Wild-card positions are still a possibility. According to Diaz, Hamlin would have to finish in at least 20th in the point standings and have the most or second most wins among the drivers competing for the two wild card spots. If everything goes according to plan, Hamlin would have 16 races to make up ground in the standings.

There are tracks on the Sprint Cup schedule where Hamlin can make up lots of ground in the standings. Hamlin will get to race at Darlington, Charlotte, Pocono twice, Kentucky, New Hampshire and Richmond. That gives Hamlin seven races at tracks where he excels.

At those tracks, Hamlin has a combined 51 starts, with an average finish of 8.40. He’s also won nine career races at those tracks, including four at Pocono. Count on Hamlin to take advantage of these tracks and contend for some highly coveted wins, which he will need in his pursuit for a wild card.

Hamlin also has the tracks where he struggles immensely. Two of them include road courses. Hamlin will have to race at Dover, Sonoma, Daytona, Indianapolis and Watkins Glen. Four of those five are his worst career tracks. He does not have a win at any of them. His average career finish at those tracks is outside of the top 15. He needs to run within the top 15 to stay in contention.

In order for Denny Hamlin to make a serious run to make the chase, he will have to run stronger than ever at tracks in which he has struggled throughout his career. He has to run in the top 20 week in and week out. There is no room for even the slightest error.

At Denny’s favorable tracks, it will be important that he runs up front and contends for wins at every single one of them. He will need two or three wins to give himself a chance to make the Chase.

Also, folks most consider Hamlin’s injury. How quickly will he acclimate back into his car? If it takes time to adjust, then his championship hopes are finished. Making up five races and winning two of them will not be an easy task, even for the talents of Hamlin. Right now, too much is needed to go right and currently, everything is going wrong.


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