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Monday, November 15, 2010

Cheer up Denny Hamlin: The Cup title is still yours to lose

A letter to Denny Hamlin:

There’s no need to throw things, Denny, all is still well.

I know your points lead has dwindled to 15 points, and four-time champ Jimmie Johnson is right on your heels, but guess what … you’re still in charge.

I know you were the dominant car all day at Phoenix and should have won and left there leading the points by more than 60 points, and fuel mileage is a tough reason to lose so many spots, but you really did make the right move.

You were the points leader, and if you had run out of gas and finished in 25th, your title hopes would have been damn near over. You had to protect that points lead, and that meant you had to pit.

In hindsight, it appears you may have been able to make it, but guess what: it’s over, it happened. Forget about it.

The facts are simple, Mr. Hamlin: You have had the best car for the second half of the Chase, and there’s no reason to believe that won’t be the case at Homestead. If you go out and do the same thing you did at Phoenix, minus the fuel issue, you’re going to be champion.

But if you dwell on past disappointments, and don’t focus fully on doing what you’ve done all year on the way to 8 victories, you are much more likely to make a mistake and give the title away to Jimmie or Kevin.

So cheer up Denny … the sky is not falling. Let Jimmie talk all the smack he wants, you just have to go out and finish ahead of him at Homestead and you will be the next Cup champion.

Clinch scenarios
While some people whine about the Chase and how "fake" it is, this year’s scenario going into Homestead couldn't have worked out better.

This is the closest gap from 1st to 2nd in Chase history … just 15 points between Hamlin and Johnson, with Harvick lurking nearby, just 46 points behind Hamlin. One of these three will be your champ. In 2004, Johnson trailed Kurt Busch by 18 points heading into Homestead, and Busch held on in exciting fashion to retain his points lead and become champ.

The clinching scenario for Denny is pretty simple: The only way he can guarantee a clinch of his first Cup title is by either finishing second while leading the most laps or winning next Sunday’s season finale Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Of course, if Johnson doesn’t finish up front, he can finish lower and still take the title, and of course Kevin Harvick can capitalize if both of them screw up.

Jimmie tries to get in Denny’s head
Not usually one to egg on the competition, Jimmie Johnson most certainly did that after the race Sunday.

“I know what my mindset is and I hope the pressure of us being on his heels really works on his mind throughout the course of the week – he and his crew. Those guys better be on their toes. Not only do they have the 48 to worry about, but they have the 29 (Kevin Harvick) and one race winner take all – it’s going to be one hell of a show.”

Edwards completes sweep
To say Carl Edwards had a good weekend would be the understatement of the year. On the Cup side, he led all the practices, won the pole and won the race. On the Nationwide side, he qualified outside pole and won the race.

It was the first time Roush was in Victory Lane since Homestead in 2008.

Car owner Jack Roush said he was very excited to be back, and credited various factors – including the FR9 engine and improved simulations.

"It had been far too long since we'd been in Victory Circle with Carl. Everybody expects Carl to win as Carl expects to win, so Bob and I had been working behind the scenes to try to figure out how to get that to happen. The Ford support that we've got for our simulations has really come into play. It's been good. The new FR9 engine that Ford helped us with certainly was a factor today, at least early on before we started saving gas, and then the fact that we were able to save the gas and he still had enough speed to maintain his position on the race track was all very good. I'm thrilled to be here. I'm just proud to be here and share the moment."

Edwards said the win is a weight off his shoulders, and a big confidence booster for a team that’s had a rough couple years.

"A win is very important to us. It's a big accomplishment for us. It's something that we needed for our confidence and we needed it as a payoff for all the hard work that the guys put in at the shop and the engine department. It would be nice to get another one at Homestead, but to go into the off-season knowing that we're getting better and it looks like we have a really legitimate shot to finish fourth in the points, to be in the All-Star Race next season, to have that energy going forward -- all of those things are good."

Logano coming up big lately
Forgotten in the championship discussion was a third-straight top-5 run and fifth-straight top-10 run by Joey Logano.

The young Joe Gibbs Racing driver, who was praised as a phenom upon arriving in NASCAR, is already starting to live up to those expectations, and the good news for Joe Gibbs is he has a couple decades of driving left in him.

Logano said he is excited by his recent run, and it’s a good sign headed into 2011.

"Zippy and the guys did an awesome job. It's fun to be up here,” Logano said. “It's huge, huge. We're trying to get 15th in points. The 39 (Ryan Newman) beat us today, they finished second. But, we're close. We lost as little as possible there. If we finish off the year like this, I'm excited about next year, that's for sure."

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