Chase offered setbacks, comebacks

BY Larry McReynolds • November 26, 2010

I think Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race, for the three drivers vying for the championship, personified the season of each.

We’ve watched as all three have had an up-and-down 2010 season. On Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, you saw each of them have an up-and-down race -- obviously some more than others.

Jimmie Johnson obviously had more ups than downs. Really, the only downs you can point to Sunday for him were two or three rough pit stops. Those all happened early- to mid-race.

Now Denny Hamlin, he had a lot of ups and downs. Actually at one point, after an early spin following contact with Greg Biffle, I thought his Joe Gibbs Racing team had gotten that No. 11 car pretty good and it actually looked like they were a little better than Johnson. Unfortunately for Hamlin, after the midway point of Sunday’s race, the adjustments Johnson’s bunch made on pit road simply made that car better and better.

I actually think the tone of the weekend was set with qualifying.

Jimmie went out there and qualified sixth. I wasn’t too alarmed when Kevin Harvick qualified 28th. I mean, that’s pretty much been the norm for that group. Not only did Harvick overcome that, but he also overcame a pit-road speeding penalty and finished a very strong third.

You also have to tip your hat to Kevin, crew chief Gil Martin and that entire Richard Childress Racing team because they never quit scratching, clawing and fighting until the checkered flag waved at Homestead. They never gave up on the deal.

Of the three title contenders, the real drama on Sunday was with Hamlin. I truly believe it all started in qualifying. He qualified way, way back in 37th. That’s just so hard to overcome.

Now I know he and his team have done it in the past. They showed us that at Texas Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway, but again, it’s just hard to start your day that far back.

Then early on, which I think was before Lap 30, when he got in trouble with Biffle, I believe maybe Denny overextended himself. Unfortunately, he and Biffle got together and it was the beginning of a very disappointing day. Hamlin’s team just never could get the car to stay with them after that incident.

All in all, the race kept me on the edge of my seat until I saw the checkered flag wave. We saw Jeff Gordon have engine problems, so you never know if that would encompass all the Hendrick cars, including Jimmie. Now, the team probably had Johnson’s car dialed down a little bit to be conservative. They probably had Gordon’s car set on “kill” on some of their setup because, let’s face it, they had nothing to lose there.

The bottom line is, we got what we bargained for.

We’ve been waiting for this, quite honestly, for seven years. We sort of had it that first year with Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson.

It was pretty amazing to have three guys take it down to the wire and all three end up only 41 points from each other at the end of the season.


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