Monday, November 22, 2010

Sprint Cup 2010: Race 36 -- Denny Hamlin

What a splendid position to be in. On the last race day of the season, to start the day in first place and to lead the Sprint Cup Series in wins would be the envy of 42 other drivers even if it was just a 15 point lead. Hamlin raced to perfect two weeks ago in Texas taking the points lead and looked on solid footing to dislodge Jimmie Johnson, the four year defending champion.

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.


Buddy said...

Dear RMF,

While I agree your assertion that Denny Hamlin will need to mature as a sportsman in order to be a champion, I don’t fully agree with you that his tussle with Greg Biffle is what ultimately sealed his fate. Actually, Denny and his team recovered nicely after several rounds of pits to repair the damaged splitter and was beginning to make up ground on the leaders. What actually put Denny out of contention was the call that came too late from Mike Ford to pit on the next to last caution and Denny’s late reaction to that call. While other cars pitted, Denny was left on the track with older tires, unable to take advantage of track position. Subsequently, he was the first to take on fuel and gas during the next cycle of green flag pits stops hoping to take advantage of fresh tires. Unfortunately, those in front of him pitted on the next lap and then the final caution came out, mid-stream of green flag pit stops. This negated any advantage he may have had with tires and the prior gaff put him a lap down in front of the leaders at the last caution of the day. While he took advantage of the wave around rule and started 18th, with only 17 laps remaining, he did not have enough time to make up the distance between him and Jimmie Johnson.

The Championship was determined by team work. The Hendricks Motorsports has set that standard in recent years and reminded us that it takes a team to win championships in Texas when the 24 over the wall pit crew finished out the season on the 48 car. Chad Knaus and Jimmy and Jimmie have been on the same page most of the time. It was been solid communication as well as timely and accurate decisions from the top of the pit box that secured the fifth consecutive championship. Mike Ford and Denny Hamlin showed this lack of team work over the past two weeks. Denny maturation as well as The #11 team’s chemistry will need to improve if Denny is going to make a serious run for the championship in 2011

Right Minded Fellow said...

My observation on Hamlin's bump with Biffle as being what sealed his fate was based on post race comments b Hamlin (who of course could have been looking to make excuses) and comments by ESPN analysts that he was fighting handling problems for the rest of the afternoon -- the front end got out of whack and couldn't be adjusted properly.

Yes, the #48 team shows the rewards of teamwork both within the team itself and the Hendricks organization -- would any other team swap pit crews in a race like they did and Jeff Gordon didn't complain about it at all.

Stay tuned for a future post on sizing up the chase field's needs for next year and which teams out of the top 12 are good bets to make the chase and why.

Buddy said...

One must admit that a mid-race swap of the full over the wall pit crew was quite aggressive. You’ve seen pit crews help out in the case of injury. In this case, Chad looked like a genius for the rest of the Texas race and the race in Phoenix. However, the crew did not look stellar at Homestead.

Also, the 24/48 swap of crews was not the only one that occurred during the chase. The 33 and 29 pit crews were swapped after Race #5 of The Chase in order to give the 29 car a competitive advantage.

Right Minded Fellow said...

Childress, DEI and other multi-car teams have switched crews during the season; however, when Childress swapped the 29 and the 33 during the Chase, that seemed like a bolder move.

However, when the Hendricks boys swapped 48 and 24, that seemed very radical. How many teams were thinking, "why couldn't we do that?"

When the season is on the line, no one knows the drill better than Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus. Why does Johnson have to be so boring?