11 – Denny Hamlin
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
Crew Chief: Darian Grubb
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Best Finish: 2nd (2010)
Chase History: 7th Chase Appearance, Best finish of 2nd in 2010
Regular Season Recap: If this was the old Chase qualifying system (before this season, that is), Hamlin would be iffy at best to make the playoffs. He’s struggled way too much. Sure, he has a win (Talladega), but just six top-5s and 11 top-10s are not the kind of statistics that make Sprint Cup champions. He also missed a race due to an eye issue (California). He’s also been without crew chief Darian Grubb for the last six weeks due to a NASCAR penalty. Hamlin really hasn’t had a prolonged hot streak to date. It’s unlikely he’ll find one in the Chase.
Jerry’s Take: Much like a number of other fellow drivers like Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick, Hamlin is also a championship waiting to happen. But that championship – at least for the driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota – will not come in 2014.
Unless he catches fire early in the first three races, it will not be a surprise to see Hamlin among the first four drivers who are eliminated from further progress in the Chase.
Last season, Hamlin missed the Chase entirely due to the vicious wreck at Fontana that forced him to miss four races. He just hasn’t seemed to be the same in terms of Chase production since finishing second to Jimmie Johnson in 2010. It’s almost as if he has an albatross around his neck that can’t be removed.
While I’d love to see Hamlin go out and dominate in the Chase, there are just too many other good drivers ahead of him to give much hope for Denny’s championship hopes this season.
Chris’s Take: Talladega triumph aside, Hamlin’s had himself an up-and-down season and I can’t help but think we’re in for more of the same in the Chase. If he can have an early “up” day and grab his third Cup win at New Hampshire, he’ll be in the Contender Round, but that may be as far as he gets unless he finds a way to consistently run with the leaders. However, if he can do that, look out for him at Martinsville in the Eliminator Round – a 5th win at the ‘paperclip’ would mean a surprise berth in the Championship.
Tony’s Take: Like the rest of the Joe Gibbs Racing team this year, inconsistency and occasional bad luck has plagued the No. 11 FedEx Toyota team. Hamlin has been better of late, since Daytona in July, but other than Indianapolis hasn’t shown race-winning potential.
I wouldn’t be shocked if he gets knocked out in the Challenger round. I don’t think all three Gibbs cars advance from that, and either Hamlin or Kyle Busch is vulnerable in this first set of races.
Denny Hamlin’s Career Statistics at Chase Tracks
Chicagoland (1.5 mile) – Zero wins, 1 Top-5s, 2 Top-10s in 8 starts
New Hampshire (1 mile) – Two wins, 7 Top-5s, 11 Top-10s in 17 starts
Dover (1 mile) – Zero wins, 3 Top-5s, 6 Top-10s in 17 starts
Kansas (1.5 mile) – One win, 3 Top-5s, 3 Top-10s in 12 starts
Charlotte (1.5 mile) – Zero wins, 4 Top-5s, 10 Top-10s in 18 starts
Talladega (2.66 mile) – One win, 4 Top-5s, 6 Top-10s in 17 starts
Martinsville (half-mile) – Four wins, 9 Top-5s, 13 Top-10s in 17 starts
Texas (1.5-mile) – Two wins, 5 Top-5s, 9 Top-10s in 17 starts
Phoenix (1 mile) – One win, 8 Top-5s, 9 Top-10s in 18 starts
Homestead-Miami (1.5 mile) – Two win, 4 Top-5s, 5 Top-10s in 9 starts
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