If there is a chink in the armor of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team, I think we saw it Sunday following the Phoenix race.
I think you saw the painful emotion from Denny Hamlin after the race. You also saw crew chief Mike Ford not being so cute like he has been the last couple of weeks.
What happened Sunday wasn’t funny. Someone made a mistake. Somewhere they lost track of three gallons of gas. Let’s face it, they came up roughly 12 miles short. So they missed it and they missed it pretty bad.
These guys have never been here before.
They’ve never been this close to a championship. They can taste it. This is unchartered waters for them.
That’s completely opposite from the situation of Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus. Even though, points-wise, those two are mathematically behind, I still call this race dead even.
I think one of the two of them will be the champion Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
This is where you can’t afford to be wrong and make a mistake in your preparations, fuel calculations or, well, anything.
This will haunt Ford if it slips through his fingers.
This will be on the same scale of Richard Petty coming back and beating Darrell Waltrip in Ontario, Calif., at the last race of the year to win the championship. DW had him beat, but let the championship get away from him.
If you talk to Larry McReynolds, he will tell you the same story back in 1992 with his driver, Davey Allison. They had that championship all but won, but they let it slip through their fingers and Alan Kulwicki ended up as the champion.
I promise you there won’t be a restful night on that entire Hamlin team until this thing is all said and done.
In the back of all of their minds, they know they could have been going into Homestead with a 60-plus points lead or even more — but they aren’t.
They let Phoenix get away from them and it was just huge. Instead of taking the life out of Johnson and his team, they actually gave them a resurrection. Obviously, that literally could come back to haunt Hamlin and his team.
So how do they avoid dwelling on it anymore than they probably are?
Well, that’s simple: Don’t watch anything, don’t read anything and don’t listen to anything any of us are saying.
Do your job. Have tunnel-vision and go out and perform like you have all season.
If they can do that, then they will have a much more enjoyable week.
Don’t listen to all of us with our “what if” scenarios. Hamlin’s team doesn’t need to have a “what if” in their mind when they roll into Homestead.
Get rid of it, don’t dwell on it. Go to Homestead with the mindset of “taking care of business.”
Have the mindset of win or go home. The only difference is “go home” means no more racing until February 2011.
Hamlin’s team can’t listen to a single thing Kevin Harvick or Jimmie Johnson have to say. If I was Kevin Harvick or crew chief Gil Martin, or even Jimmie or Chad, I would be playing up that that Hamlin’s team choked Sunday in Phoenix. I would be telling everyone that would listen that the team can’t even add and subtract. Why? Well why not; I have nothing to lose being in second and third sports, so why not try to get into Hamlin’s head.
The best thing the Hamlin and his team can do is tune out all the noise.
When they are at the shop, they should concentrate on their jobs.
When they are home, they should enjoy their families or watch “Tom and Jerry” or the “Three Stooges.” They simply cannot let the media or any outside influence in their head.
Don’t watch “NASCAR Hub” this week. Don’t watch “SportsCenter” or listen to Sirius Radio. Just don’t do it, because the stakes are too high and if you listen to the other guys, Hamlin’s team will be hearing it in their sleep — guaranteed.
If you think about it, it is actually really simple for Hamlin and his team this Sunday. All they have to focus on is finishing Sunday ahead of Johnson and Harvick and the championship is theirs.
Don’t listen to the media.
Don’t worry about statistics.
Have your guys rested and ready to go because you need their A-game now more than ever.
This is what they have trained for. You can’t allow yourself to come into Homestead second-guessing yourself.
Hamlin’s team has to tell themselves that Sunday is their day.
They have to race like a champion — and the rest will take care of itself.