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Head2Head: Is Hamlin still a threat for the championship?

June 13, 2011, ,

After coming so close to dethroning Jimmie Johnson last season, all eyes were on Denny Hamlin as the possible next Cup Series champion. But after a disappointing 19th-place finish at Pocono, one of Hamlin's strongest tracks, Hamlin sits 12th in points without a win to his name.

Is Denny Hamlin still considered a title contender this season?


Denny Hamlin hasn't won since last fall's Martinsville race and he's nowhere close to his 2010 form, a season in which he won eight times and posted 14 top-five finishes. But push the panic button? Not to be a Hamlin apologist, but it's still way too early to write him off.

If he was running poorly every week, that would be a different matter. But he's not. He's fifth in total miles led this season, trailing only the Busch brothers, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth. And he's led 134 laps in the past three races.

In Hamlin's case, if it weren't for bad luck, he'd have no luck at all. He qualified on the front row and led 15 laps at Fontana before his engine let go and wound up 39th. Hamlin led 89 laps at Martinsville but the caution came out seven laps after he pitted under green, leaving him stranded in 12th.

He led 24 laps at Charlotte, only to run out of gas on the final lap and finish 10th. And on Sunday, Hamlin was once again the class of the field, leading 76 laps. But after a routine pit stop under caution, his left rear tire went flat and eventually blew, damaging his brakes and relegating him to a 19th-place finish.

You could easily argue that constitutes a trend, and that 2011 just isn't Hamlin's year. But with some of his best tracks -- Michigan, New Hampshire, Pocono, Watkins Glen and Richmond -- still to come before the Chase field is set, I don't think anybody in the Cup garage is writing Denny Hamlin off just yet.

Mark Aumann, NASCAR.COM

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

Oh Denny, I thought this would be the year. I really did. But 14 races in, I just don't see enough to say the No. 11 team is a championship contender this season. I'm not saying last year was a fluke, because it wasn't, but it just doesn't look like it is meant to be in 2011.

And that's too bad, because Hamlin is one of the best in the garage and it's a matter of when, not if, Hamlin wins a Cup title. And after coming oh-so-close in 2010, there were plenty of people (including me) who thought 2011 was Hamlin's year.

It's not going to happen.

Hamlin is winless through 14 races and has just two top-fives and five top-10s. Compare that to this point last season, when Hamlin had four victories and six top-fives. After Pocono in 2010, Hamlin was third in points -- he's currently 12th.

And that ultimately will be Hamlin's undoing. A quick look at the top 10 in points and the top seven, just from a mathematical perspective, appear to be locks. So that leaves Clint Bowyer, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman as potential droppers. With Gordon 11th, Hamlin will need two of the three to fall ... anyone willing to put money on that?

I could easily see Hamlin getting into the Chase via the wild card. So I'm not saying the season is a total loss. But a championship for Hamlin this season ... I just don't see it in the cards.


The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

The No. 11 has been strong more times than not, but just hasn't been able to close the deal. Is Hamlin still a threat to win the title in 2011? Bill Kimm and Mark Aumann have their thoughts. Read theirs and weigh in with your own in the comments below. And don't forget to vote in the poll at the right.