No one in chase history has made up the kind of deficit Hamlin faces and made the playoffs at this point of the schedule so Denny’s chances seem slim to none. On the other hand, no driver the caliber of Denny Hamlin has ever found themselves in this kind of position 13 races into the season. Hamlin is very fast and will win this year but will it be enough to grab a wildcard spot?
We all no reaching the top 10 is practically impossible so the target is a wildcard. People keep saying he has to get to 20th if he there’s any hope which is true but don’t fool yourself into thinking 20th with a win means he’s an automatic lock. Everyone in the top 20 right now is plenty capable of winning a race and could make Hamlin’s job that much tougher. In my mind, he will get to 20th but I believe he needs at least two wins if he wants to make the chase. In the three races since his return, Denny has won two poles, posted two top 5’s and led 47 laps. With the way he and Joe Gibbs Racing as a whole are running, I would be shocked if he doesn’t win before chase time.
The only thing that might hinder his efforts is his back. He was complaining about back pain the morning of the race at Dover and I’m sure that hard impact with the wall late in the going didn’t help it any. He said he was fine when he crashed but I’m sure he felt the consequences of that wreck the following morning. After the race, Denny tweeted “Opportunity missed.. #!*+%!!!” Besides recurring back pain from his injury, the other thing that may kill Hamlin’s charge through the points involves what is under the hood. Toyota Racing Development (TRD) has had multiple engine failures this year costing Kyle Busch a chance at the Coke 600 victory, destroying Kenseth and Truex’s great days at Dover and took JGR and MWR completely out of contention in the Daytona 500. At one point in that race, cars with TRD engines were running 1-2-3-4-5-6 and it ended in a Chevy 1-2. At Dover, TRD powered cars held every spot in the top five early on but by the end of the day, there wasn’t even a Toyota in the top three.
The issue from Dover appeared to be a valve spring issue and TRD gave a concerning answer when asked what they are going to do to fix the problem…they said it can’t be fixed. It’s the luck of the draw; sometimes you get a good engine while other times you may get a bad one. If I’m Joe Gibbs who gave up his own engine program to use TRD, I would not be very happy with that answer. An engine failure is the last thing Hamlin needs when he can’t afford any more mulligans. On top of that, president of TRD Lee White who made the push to get Toyota into NASCAR announced that he is stepping down immediately and will retire at season’s end. Denny needs to be perfect from this point on with no issues if he wants any shot at making it in. I believe he will make it to the top 20 tough and will win two races but that may not guarantee him a chase spot. He’s going to have to fight the likes of Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch and others but it’s still very possible even after a rough day at the Monster Mile.