Commentary

Should Denny Hamlin be worried?

Updated: November 17, 2010, 5:12 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

Denny Hamlin doesn't want to hear this. The 2010 racing season hasn't been kind to drivers with slim leads heading into the final event.

Fernando Alonso had an eight-point lead over Mark Webber and 15 points over Sebastian Vettel entering Sunday's Formula One finale at Abu Dhabi. Vettel won the race and the title.

Matt Hagan had a 38-point lead over John Force on Sunday at Pomona. Hagan lost in the first round and Force won his 15th NHRA Funny Car championship.

[+] EnlargeHamlin
Jason Smith/Getty ImagesDenny Hamlin is the only one of the three championship contenders who has won at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

And Will Power led Dario Franchitti by 11 points entering the IndyCar Series season-ending race at Homestead Miami Speedway. But Franchitti won the championship on the same track where Hamlin will try to hold off Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick on Sunday.

Is it a bad omen for Hamlin, a disturbing trend that could bite him? Or is it just meaningless trivia that has nothing do to with his chances at winning his first Sprint Cup title?

"You never know what can happen in the final race," Hamlin told reporters Sunday after a disappointing 12th-place finish at Phoenix. "I hate that it boils down to the final race, but that's what fans love. It's a tight one. It's just going to be whoever runs best at Homestead."

When Hamlin was laying on his couch at home last winter with a bum knee, the thought of going to Homestead with a 15-point lead over Johnson in the standings might have caused him to jump for joy, bad knee and all.

But it's a tad disappointing now, knowing he could have entered the Ford 400 with a bigger cushion if not for fuel woes at Phoenix.

Hamlin had the best car and dominated the race but had to make a late stop for gas and finished behind Johnson and Harvick, who trails Hamlin by only 46 points.

No sense in fretting over it now.

"I won't need a pep talk," Hamlin said. "This is fuel for me. I'm going to move on and try to figure out how to win [at Homestead]."

He knows how to win at Homestead. Hamlin won the season finale last season on the 1.5-mile oval. And crew chief Mike Ford is taking the No. 11 Toyota that Hamlin drove to victory two weeks ago at Texas.

"I'd rather race knowing I need to go out there and win than knowing I need to finish 15th," Hamlin said. "That's the mentality I'm going to have: win the race. The full-court press will be on. It will be one of those things where you'll probably see me as aggressive as I've been all year."

Johnson and Harvick never have won at Homestead, but Johnson hasn't needed to win there during his four consecutive championship years. He needed to play it safe to win the title, so no one knows for sure how good the No. 48 Chevy team can be Sunday.

"Maybe at Homestead we've been able to protect," Johnson said Sunday after finishing fifth at Phoenix. "But we certainly know that's not the case this year. We've got to go down there and race for it."

Johnson has done well at Homestead when he needed to race hard. He finished second in 2004 while trying to catch Kurt Busch for the first Chase title, falling eight points short.

Matt Kenseth already had the title won in the 2003 finale, but Johnson finished third that day. So Johnson knows how to push it at Homestead when he has to.

"We'll fight and kick and scratch and get every point we can," Johnson said. "We're ready for this final race. It's not over until the last lap."

Judging by most of the other major racing series this year, Johnson or Harvick have the best shot at finishing on top.

Harvick has the best average finish of the trio on 1.5-mile ovals this season at 9.3. Johnson isn't bad either at 10.4

Will another come-from-behind champ be crowned Sunday?

Hamlin doesn't think so. Homestead is his house. He has finished in the top three in three of the past four races on the South Florida track.

"If you look at history, it looks good for us," Hamlin said. "So I'm just going to continue to keep digging as hard as I can. It's going to be tough. Those guys are going to be good.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's going to take a win. We just hope to have a clean race and the best car wins. That's all that we can ask for to crown the champ."

Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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