Story and photo by: Drew Hierwarter
Those are footsteps you hear, Jimmie. The footsteps of Denny Hamlin, hard on your heels and threatening to break the Chase wide open and end your championship streak at four.
Way back in the beginning of the season Denny Hamlin was being touted as a near lock on the 2010 Sprint Cup title. This would be his year was what every “expert” in the media center was saying.
But in the first five races Hamlin’s best finish was 17th at Daytona and folks weren’t quite so sure anymore. Then he won the spring race at Martinsville and four of the next nine races and people were once again talking about Hamlin and the Championship in the same breath.
Next followed a string of ten races where Hamlin scored only three top tens concluded by an engine failure at Atlanta that turned a first place start into a last place finish.
Then he won at Richmond and brought that momentum into the Chase and has only a 12th place finish at Kansas to mar an otherwise perfect string of top ten Chase finishes.
His win at Martinsville yesterday, combined with Jimmie Johnson’s fifth place finish brings the two drivers within 6 points of each other going into Talladega next week.
Talladega. The very sound of the name instills trepidation in some drivers. The close racing at high speeds means that a single car crash is a rare occasion. A small mistake by one driver can sweep many cars into the “Big One”, even championship contending cars.
Both Johnson and Hamlin could have their day ruined without doing anything wrong themselves. Third place Kevin Harvick could easily be vaulted into the lead.
Hamlin called it exactly right in the media center after his win at Martinsville; “Who said it was over? I told you it wasn’t!”