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   201411metrocastweb

Momentum starts at Richmond

The frustration had bubbled over for Chesterfield  Va.  native Denny Hamlin.  He had a strong and possibly winning car under him at Atlanta, but his engine failed him.  It blew up, and he finished dead last on the evening.  It was just the fourth time in his career that he has finished 43rd.
Prior to the race, Hamlin talked about setting up for the Chase for the Sprint Cup which begins Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.  He wanted to have momentum rolling into the Chase’s first race.  Coming out of Atlanta he had anything but momentum.  Three of his last four finishes looked like this:  37th at Watkins Glen; 34th at Bristol; and 43rd at Atlanta. The lone bright spot of late was a second  place finish in the Carfax 400 at Michigan on August 15th.  
Over the four-race span, Hamlin’s in-race statistics were not as bad as his finishes would indicate.  He led 86 laps of those races and 41 times during that span he turned the fastest lap in the field.  It’s been that kind of year for Hamlin, although he went into Richmond last Saturday night tied with Jimmie Johnson for the most wins for the season with five apiece. He has also had a high rate of lousy finishes. It has pretty much been feast or famine all year.
What better time and place to turn the momentum around than at your home track, the last race before the start of the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins?  

Denny Hamlin has pretty much got this fall race at Richmond figured  out. Last September Hamlin dominated the race leading 299 of the 400 laps. In fact he was so strong that he was never lower than third place all evening.
In nine Richmond races, he has four top fives, and five top ten finishes.  Even his clunkers have been impressive. Most memorable was probably the May race in 2008, when Hamlin led an astounding 381 laps.  Only a blown tire down the stretch cost him the win and the 381 laps at the head of the pack went for naught, Hamlin finished a disappointing 24th on the evening.
Saturday night Denny Hamlin made it two in a row at Richmond’s fall race.  He was dominant all evening in a race slowed by only three caution flags, and one of them was for a brief mid-race shower.  The battle for the lead between Hamlin and teammate Kyle Busch over the final twenty laps was worth the price of admission. For a change, no back marker spun out to bring out a caution. No debris on the track caution.  Just good hard racing. Busch nearly got past Hamlin, but got his brakes too hot and used up his rear tires. A very nervous Joe Gibbs watched his two young drivers duke it out, and in the end finish one, two on the evening.   
Saturday night’s win was number six on the season, giving Hamlin the most wins and a ten point lead over defending champion Jimmie Johnson when the Chase begins this weekend in New Hampshire.  
With everybody looking for momentum for the Chase, how are some other drivers trending the past few weeks?  
Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart have to be considered serious challengers for the 2010 Championship. While he’s still winless on the season, Edwards racked up 1356 points over the last nine events during the race for the chase, the most of any driver. Tony Stewart was next with 1319 points. During that stretch Edwards has also compiled five top five finishes, tied with Stewart. Stewart’s momentum was fueled by his win at Atlanta Motor Speedway, marking his first win since last October at Kansas Speedway.
The 2010 Chase for the Sprint Cup gets under way Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway with the running of the Sylvania 300.  Mark Martin is the defending race winner, while Juan Pablo Montoya won last year’s Coors Light Pole award. Jeff Burton is the all-time winner at New Hampshire with four victories. Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon each have each won three times at New Hampshire.

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