Homestead-Miami Winner Hamlin Eyeing Two Trophies This Fall
If the Chase started today, reigning Ford 400 winner Denny Hamlin would be in the lead with his series-leading five wins. (Courtesy Jason Smith, Getty Images Sport)
When the 2010 season began, many prognosticators felt that Jimmie Johnson was as good a bet as any to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup at Homestead-Miami Speedway this fall, which would be his fifth consecutive title. But with five wins of his own in his last 10 races, Denny Hamlin is looking for a rewrite to that script.
At Michigan for Race 15 of 36 en route to the Champions being crowned in Miami Nov. 19-21, Hamlin drove away from Kasey Kahne’s Ford for his fifth victory of the season. With the win, the No. 11 sits in third place in the point standings, just 47 points behind leader Kevin Harvick. But if the Chase were to begin today, Hamlin would be the “reset” standings leader with his 50 bonus “wins” points. Just 11 races remain before the field is set for the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. Tickets for NASCAR’s Ford Championship Weekend (Nov. 19-21) go on sale to the general public July 3 (renewal deadlines are June 15 and June 30). For more information, stay tuned to THEChampionshipTrack.com or call (866) 409-RACE.
"This team is so focused on winning, and it was so great to have a car like the one I had today," Hamlin said. "To win here at Michigan, where I haven't been very good of late, is huge, and I feel very confident we're going to continue to be in contention for more wins down the road."
Hamlin’s magical streak began last fall in the very place where he’d like to see it to end up: at Homestead-Miami Speedway. After claiming the win in last fall’s Ford 400 Sprint Cup finale, he was a preseason media favorite to unseat four-time Champion Johnson on the Sprint Cup’s ultimate stage in South Florida. Some of that optimism waned when Hamlin underwent anterior-cruciate ligament surgery at the end of March—the result of a January basketball injury—but the decision to have in-season surgery seems to have worked in Hamlin’s favor: In the 10 races he’s run since going under the knife, Hamlin has four wins and six Top 5s.
Two-time Sprint Cup Champion Tony Stewart scored his second consecutive Top 5 result and with it, “Smoke” jumped from 13th in the Championship standings to the 11th spot. The Top 12 drivers in the points standings as of Race 26 (on Sept. 11) will qualify for the Chase “playoffs” that culminate with a Champion being crowned in Miami Nov. 21. Tickets for NASCAR’s Ford Championship Weekend go on sale to the general public July 3 (renewal deadlines are June 15 and June 30). For more information, stay tuned to THEChampionshipTrack.com or call (866) 409-RACE.
"I'm pretty excited about it," said Stewart, a notoriously hot midsummer driver. "That's the best car we've had in a long time, so I'm really proud of our guys. We're definitely gaining on it. I felt ‘racey’ today. It was a pretty good day for the Old Spice/Office Depot Chevy."
NASCAR points leader Harvick finished 19th but hangs on to the Championship lead by 22 markers over Kyle Busch and Hamlin just 47 points back.
Jeff Gordon tallied a fourth-place run in Race 15 of 36 en route to the Champions being crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 19-21. With his strong run, the four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion sits seventh in the point standings, 182 points back of Harvick. Gordon’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., enjoyed a resurgence and jumped two positions to 14th place in the Sprint Cup Championship standings. NASCAR’s most popular driver and Jeff Burton raced each other hard in the final laps before the No. 88 took seventh, with Burton finishing one notch behind.
"Hard enough to stay in front of him,” Earnhardt Jr. said “He had a better car right there, and I'd been running the bottom, but he was coming….Hopefully [the fans] enjoyed today’s good run, and I hope that I can bring more of them to them, man. We’ve just got to have a good car, but with the way these races go at the end, you’ve got to have a ton of luck, too, to make a lot of right calls, and have the best car at the end.”
Junior finds himself 81 points outside of the Top 12 Chase qualifiers—one of whom will claim the Championship crown at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 21.
Kurt Busch, who claimed his Sprint Cup Championship at Homestead-Miami in 2004, led six times for 60 laps—including well into the race’s second half—before settling for third.
"It was an exceptional day for our team, to be able to have the captain [team owner Roger Penske] on top of the spotter's tower, out there up front early on,” said Busch. “I felt like we had a special day brewing for us. To sit on the pole, lead a lot of laps with our Miller Lite Vortex Dodge, we felt like we had things going our way. In Sprint Cup racing, if you're off just a little bit, somebody is going to jump on top of you, get by you, pass you, and make you feel like you don't belong up there.”
With 11 races to go before the “playoff” field is set and just 173 points separating 12th place from 20th, many of the series’ top drivers remain in the hunt, including Earnhardt Jr., Stewart, Mark Martin and South Florida’s Juan Pablo Montoya (see sidebar). The contenders for the Sprint Cup Championship—to be crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 21—will be unveiled after Race 26 on Sept. 11 at Richmond.
All of NASCAR’s elite again will have the opportunity to gain points toward Miami on Sunday at Sonoma (3 p.m., TNT TV, MRN Radio)—Race 16 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 19-21). Tickets to see NASCAR’s Champions crowned go on sale to the general public on July 3 (renewal deadlines are June 15 and June 30). For more information, stay tuned to THEChampionshipTrack.com or call (866) 409-RACE.
On The Move: South Florida's Montoya
“Shame on the result, but we had a pretty good car.”
--South Florida-resident Juan Pablo Montoya, who finished 13th in Race 15
South Florida-resident Juan Pablo Montoya had his moments on track in Sprint Cup Race 15 of 36 en route to a Champion being crowned on his “home track” Nov. 21. He ran as high as second place and in the Top 5 for a good portion of the day, but when it was all said and done, he finished 13th. The finish represented the first time all year that Montoya finished outside of the Top 10 in races in which he has completed all scheduled laps. Montoya has 11 races remaining to qualify for the Chase “playoffs” and contend for NASCAR’s series-crowning Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 19-21).
“Shame on the result, but we had a pretty good car. It just wouldn’t go in the short run,” the driver of the No. 42 “tweeted” post-race.
Montoya resides in the 20th spot in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings before the field is set for the Chase “playoffs” that will culminate with the 2010 Champion being crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 21. He needs to be in the Top 12 overall points to make the Chase cut-off (Sept. 11). It is worth noting that one year ago, the South Florida resident rattled off nine Top 10s in a span of 14 races to vault from 15th to a Chase spot.
Montoya’s next opportunity to gain points comes next weekend at Sonoma—the road course where Montoya scored a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory in 2007—for Race 16 of 36 en route to NASCAR’s series-crowning Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 19-21.
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