Debate: Will Hamlin Make the Chase?

Denny Hamlin

Can Denny Hamlin come back from injury and race his way into the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup? (Photo: Getty Images)

Pete Pistone and Dustin Long debate whether or not Denny Hamlin can come back from injury and race his way into the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Pete Pistone – No

Thank goodness for folks like Dustin, who surely must still believe in the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny. Anyone that thinks Hamlin can find his way into this year’s Chase has to have memorized every mythic fable imaginable.

Mathematically there is no doubt Hamlin has a shot to pull off the feat. Despite being on the sidelines for four races, he more than likely will be able to leap frog over those ahead of him in the standings and slide into the top 20 and qualify for a Wild Card spot. Even though he’s 71 points away - nearly two full races - Hamlin can certainly put together enough consistent finishes to at least overcome that first hurdle.

But here’s where it gets tricky.

Hamlin must also take at least a pair of checkered flags and maybe three in order to punch his ticket to the playoffs.

Optimists point to how the Joe Gibbs Racing driver performed during the upcoming stretch last year when indeed he was able to score back-to-back victories late in the regular season at Bristol and Atlanta.

However ask Carl Edwards how easy it is to replicate the effort of a previous campaign. I invite you to do so while you’re comparing his 2011 vs. 2012 statistics. Or lob the question at Tony Stewart, who this time a year ago had two wins compared to 2013’s one top 10.

Even putting aside Hamlin’s physical issues and continued recovery process (by the way this is a guy who said on a daily basis his pain threshold is a seven), it’s more than wishful thinking to expect the same results as were recorded last season.

I get why Hamlin and his legion of followers are believers. Heck, I’m a Cub fan and even though realistically the team’s World Series aspirations are over by Memorial Day weekend, I never give up hope until they throw the final shovel of dirt on each year’s pennant chances. It’s what sports are all about and Hamlin deserves to be rooted on by his fans.

I’m sorry to throw the cold bucket of reality on the whole storybook tale. Try as he might, mighty Denny will strike out in his race to make the Chase.

Dustin Long – Yes

If not for people such as my esteemed colleague, where we would be? To say someone can’t do something shows a lack of faith, a lack of imagination and a lack in the human spirit.

Yes, Denny Hamlin’s path to making the Chase is infinitely more difficult than most other drivers but that won’t stop him. Count on him making the Chase.

It doesn’t matter that Hamlin is 71 points out of 20th - the final position to be eligible for a wildcard spot. He’ll make it.

Kasey Kahne provided a road map last year for Hamlin and his team.

A poor start had Kahne nine points out of 20th at this time season. He rallied in the summer and was 11th in the points (before the points reset) after the September Richmond race.

That put him 175 points ahead of 20th. He gained a total of 184 points on the 20th-place driver in the final 17 races before the Chase.

Hamlin needs to gain less than half of what Kahne did on 20th to be eligible for a wildcard

Kahne made his charge by scoring an average finish of 10.7 in those 17 races before the Chase. That included a 33rd-place finish at Michigan, a 29th at Pocono and a 23rd at Atlanta. He countered those performances with two wins, six top-fives and 10 top-10 finishes.

The challenge is that Hamlin likely needs to win two races to assure a Chase spot. That’s a normal summer for him. He’s scored at least two wins in three of the last four seasons during this stretch.

Such a run seems more likely considering the strength of Joe Gibbs Racing this season. Hamlin’s teammates, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch, have swept the four races on 1.5- and 2-mile speedways so far. Also, six of Hamlin’s 22 career Cup wins have come at Pocono and New Hampshire. The series will race at those tracks three times before the Chase. Should he need it, he’s won twice at Richmond.

So why is there any doubt Hamlin will make the Chase?

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, Denny Hamlin

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