- Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 November 2009 17:22
- Published on Tuesday, 03 November 2009 17:22
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Oh, what might have been for Chesterfield native Denny Hamlin. His win in the Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville after an accident while leading, and an engine failure in successive weeks all but cooked his title chances. Small consolation. Hamlin became the first Virginia driver since Joe Weatherly in 1961 to win at Richmond International and Martinsville in the same season.
“Of course everyone knows anything can happen,” Hamlins said during practice at Talladega Superspeedway last weekend.
Hamlin’s comments were typical of most of the drivers going into last Sunday’s AMP Energy 500 at Talladega. The final restrictor plate race of the season has a well-earned reputation for shaking things up. Going into last Sunday’s race ranked first in restrictor plate driver ratings. He’s also ranked at or near the top of many of the pre-race driving stats at Talladega. Of the drivers who have driven more than one Talladega race since 2005, Hamlin ranks first in driver rating, second in average running position, and seventh in laps led.
Hamlin was at the front of the pack much of the afternoon last Sunday. That is, until about 50 laps from the end of the race. The steady cloud of smoke from the rear of the FedEx Toyota spelled the end of Hamlin’s day with a blown engine.
Once he caught his breath, Hamlin was philosophical about another DNF: “This has pretty much been the story of our season. We take one step forward and two steps backward. Hopefully, this year’s experience will make our engines stronger and more durable next season.”
Throughout his career, Talladega has been Jimmie Johnson’s third worst track. This season in restrictor plate races, Johnson hasn’t fared much better. In the three plate races coming into last Sunday, Johnson has only one top five finish. That came at the July Daytona race.
The Chase for the Sprint Cup heads to Texas Motor Speedway Sunday as the season winds down to its final three races. Carl Edwards, who has yet to visit victory lane this season in a Cup car, won both the spring and fall races in 2008. Edwards has three wins at the 1.5 mile track, the most of any driver.
There have been 17 Sprint Cup races at the Fort Worth facility since 1997. Jimmie Johnson is the only driver to win a Chase for the sprint Cup race at Texas; he scored that win en route to his second championship in 2007.
Jeff Gordon’s single 2009 victory came at Texas Motor Speedway in April. But the four-time sprint Cup Champion trailing Jimmie Johnson by 196 points is a long shot a best to notch his fifth Cup championship. “I will say the next three races, we are going to be extremely aggressive. We’ve worked our way up to third in points. They have a pretty comfortable lead and how they race versus how we race is probably going to be a little bit different,” Gordon said prior to last Sunday’s race at Talladega. “I think the one advantage that we have right now is that we’re far enough back to where we really don’t have a whole lot to lose; it is sort of their championship to lose and we are going to race them hard.”
Sunday’s Amp Energy 500 was actually pretty dull until the last few laps. The NASCAR president laid the law down in the drivers’ meeting, saying he would not tolerate bump drafting in the turns and would not stand for what they called “aggressive bump drafting” anywhere on the track. They parked Michael Waltrip in practice Saturday to reinforce their message. The drivers seemed to get the message, at least for most of the afternoon.
Jimmie Johnson, just hoping to get out of Talladega with minimal damage to his points lead, cruised around at the rear of the field until the final 15 laps of the race, then he began to move forward. He avoided the day’s two big accidents in the final ten laps and when several drivers ran out of gas just as the green, white, checkered finish was about to begin, Johnson ended up with an impressive sixth place finish, 184 points ahead of teammate Mark Martin in 2nd place.