Monday, November 22, 2010
Sprint Cup 2010: Race 36 -- Denny Hamlin
Hamlin raced well in Phoenix last week, but facing the prospect of running out fuel, Mike Ford, Hamlin's crew chief gambled by having the #11 make a fuel stop with what could be enough time for competitors to have to do the same or run out of gas. Alas, Jimmie Johnson finished in the top five and Hamlin finished 12th narrowing the gap for a real shootout in the finale. His poor qualifying put the strain on his competitive position as well, because once the green flag flew he was double digits behind Johnson on the track and would have to play catch up all day if he were to regain the lead and capture the championship. A bump with the #16 Ford driven by Greg Biffle ultimately sealed Hamlin's fate -- it caused enough damage to make the car a handling mess for the rest of the race good enough to finish but not to challenge for a top five position.
Johnson would win his fifth consecutive championship, and for Denny Hamlin, it would be runner up and better luck next time.
One can argue if Johnson truly won the championship or Hamlin lost it. There were signs Hamlin truly wasn't ready to be a champion yet. His anger and frustration after Phoenix calling out his crew chief for the wrong decision was not championship behavior. Through many an interview he took shots at other drivers and teams, as he had done through much of the season creating a real storm with Richard Childress drivers after bad mouthing the organization after Clint Bowyer's penalties after his win in New Hampshire. Hamlin has seldom shied away from taking verbal shots at other drivers even for episodes that involved nothing with his situation on the race track.
Drivers often talk of respect in the garage area. Danica Patrick spoke of wanting to be sure she showed proper respect to her fellow competitors as she started her Nationwide career this year. How out of character it looked to see Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon get into a tussle at Texas since they are two drivers who have long been saluted for their respectful behavior. These lessons have not dawned on Denny Hamlin yet and he's deep enough into his career where it is long past time to turn the page.
Having five years as a pro in the Sprint Cup series who just turned 30 on Thursday, it's time to "man up" and be a true sportsman. The whining and finger pointing is not befitting of a NASCAR champion. The young veteran is dealing with some difficult reality checks that if he comes back from them wiser and more mature, the future could be very bright.