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Monday, September 13, 2010

Hamlin living up to hype; One goal left -- topple Jimmie

Last year, everyone said Carl Edwards would be the champion, and he proceeded to do absolutely nothing of significance in 2009.

So with the hype this preseason being around Denny Hamlin, there was a thought that maybe he would see a similar letdown. To his credit, he has performed marvelously thus far, even battling through post-surgery pain for a while early this season, won the final pre-Chase race to take his sixth victory of the season, and will start the Chase as the points leader.

Hamlin now leads the Cup series in points, with the points resetting as they head to New Hampshire to start the Chase, and he hopes to hold on to that spot now and win the title.

Hamlin said that being on top heading into New Hampshire is a testament to how strong his race team has been this year, despite the doubts of many on the outside.

"It means a lot for this whole race team. A lot of people bash this race team about can't finish this or can't finish that, but we got the most wins and hopefully that's going to carry us through 10 weeks of the Chase."

And when asked how many races he could win in the Chase, he quickly said: "At this point I say we can win at all of them."

The person Hamlin will have to beat, of course, is four-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson. When asked who will be realistically battling for the crown, Johnson said Hamlin was among the contenders.

“Looking at the last month, the 99, the 18, the 11, hopefully us, 29; I think you've got five or six cars that can really race for the championship,” he said. “And then when you get outside of that, I think there are some guys that are finding speed.”

Clint Bowyer was the only driver who really had to defend his Chase position at RIR, and boy did he defend it. Bowyer ran up front all night, led a lot of laps and was a legitimate threat to win. Unfortunately for him, though, I don’t see a Bowyer run for the title in the offing. Others in the past, including the now-infamous Jeremy Mayfield, have had great Richmond runs to make the Chase but still flopped when competing with the big dogs. Unless his consistency improves tremendously, Bowyer will likely have a similarly unspectacular Chase run.

Always the joker, Bowyer had a good line after the race when asked whether it would be easier to beat Jimmie Johnson this year than it has been in the past.

“Absolutely. Superman has not lost his cape, but it's shorter than it was in years past,” he said. “So hopefully we'll all be able to give him a run for his money this year.”

Asked about Bowyer’s comment, Johnson said he doesn’t feel vulnerable, but added:
“If guys think we are vulnerable, it's my job to show up at Loudon, qualify on the pole and win the race,” he said. “I'm not concerned about what people think of my race team and where I'm at and what kind of threat we are for the championship. I'm just more concerned about going out and getting the damn job done.”

Those sound like fighting words, and it will be a blast watching everyone else trying to take down Johnson in the Chase. Hamlin has perhaps the best shot to do it, but he definitely won’t be the only one.

Gibbs strong overall at Richmond
Not only did Hamlin win, but Kyle Busch came from 32nd to finish 2nd, and Joey Logano came home in 4th … Not a bad night overall for the Gibbs team.

At one point, Kyle was right On Denny’s bumper, but he wasn’t about to do anything stupid to his teammate.

“Denny was a lot better than we were - he had a really good car all night. We caught up to him and I thought we had something for him,” Busch said. “In traffic, I could have made a ballsy move and gotten through him, but it would have made contact. I would rather have seen the Joe Gibbs cars finish one-two.”

Other good Richmond runs
Others having unusually solid runs included Brad Keselowski, who ran in the top-10 most of the night and finished 15th and on the lead lap. Also, Marcos Ambrose finished a solid fifth. He seems to be really good only on road courses and short tracks. If he can improve on the rest of the tracks, maybe he can contend up front more often.

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