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Minter: Championship Banquet Could Be At Denny’s

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, September 24 2009
Denny Hamlin is developing into a solid title contender.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Denny Hamlin is developing into a solid title contender. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Some Thursday observations:

With all the attention being focused on Mark Martin, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jimmie Johnson and their quests to win this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, it’s easy to overlook Denny Hamlin.

But in the weeks leading up to the Chase, Hamlin was the most consistent, winning at Pocono and Richmond  with four top-10 and two top-five finishes in between. And, oh by the way, he was second at New Hampshire and is tied with Johnson for second in the points standings behind Martin.

But to be a viable championship contender through the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Hamlin needs to run well at Dover International Speedway this week, something he has been unable to do in the recent past because of mechanical failures and crashes.

Heading into this week’s race, Hamlin has four consecutive Dover finishes outside the top 35, including a last-place finish in June, 2008. According to NASCAR statistics, in his seven Dover starts, Hamlin has an average running position of 22.1 and has led just 61 laps.

Still, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver sounded positive in his pre-race comments.

“We are really good and getting better and I think that sets up for a good run at Dover,” he said. “It’s important that we have a good finish, but at Dover it’s also important just to finish.

“So much can happen at this track and we’ve experienced it all.  From mechanical problems to getting caught up in wrecks – we’ve been through it all and have had some bad finishes recently. What you don’t really see in some the bad news is just how competitive we’ve been at Dover.

“It’s a place I like to race and place where we’ve had some really good cars.  We feel like we can go there and be really competitive. We just need to put past races behind us and focus on the task at hand.”

Another driver who ought to be dreading Dover due to his stats is Kasey Kahne, who got off to a bad Chase start with a blown engine at New Hampshire. His 38th-place points dropped him from fifth to 12th in the standings. Now he heads to a track where in 11 starts, he has two top 10s and five DNFs (did not finish).

Still, like Hamlin, he told reporters recently that he likes the place.

“I think Dover is great,” Kahne said. “I used to like it a little more when the tire would fall off and you could move all over the race track.

“It doesn’t seem like we run quite as high these days. But definitely a good track, a tough track, and a fairly long race. So it’s a little bit demanding and ‘The Monster Mile’ is difficult so anything can happen there.”

Scene Daily is reporting that Kahne’s team will go back to the old Dodge engines this week because of the crankshaft failure that knocked them out at New Hampshire.

Maybe NASCAR fans are just a bunch of beer drinkers and nothing more, or maybe on-track performance is more important than some in the sport realize.

Two hard liquor companies are making a hard turn off the track when it comes to NASCAR sponsorships. Both Jim Beam and Jack Daniels have announced that they’re ending their sponsorships after this season.

“Jack Daniel’s has enjoyed a good five-year run with Richard Childress Racing (RCR) and NASCAR, and we are pleased with the overall performance of our sponsorship program,” said Tim Rutledge, vice president and brand director for Jack Daniel’s, in a statement. “We have enjoyed building strong relationships with the people in Richard’s organization and throughout NASCAR.

“While it is difficult for us to end our formal relationship with RCR, the current economic environment has compelled us to revaluate our spending and we’ve concluded that other areas in the marketing mix require additional investment.”

What wasn’t addressed in statements from Jim Beam or Jack Daniels w as the performance of the race teams they sponsor.

Casey Mears, driver of the No. 07 Jack Daniels car, is 20th in the points standings. Robby Gordon and his No. 7 Jim Beam car are 33rd.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, September 24 2009
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Stephen says:

    Hamlin looks like the man to beat. I would love to see Mark Martin win it, and I wouldn’t mind seeing Tony Stewart win as an owner-driver, proving all the skeptics (including me) wrong. Funny, I used to hate Tony Stewart…