Denny Hamlin deals with engine issues


RICHMOND, Va. -- An engine failure last weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway is cause for concern on Denny Hamlin's Sprint Cup team heading into the Chase, where the No. 11 team saw its championship hopes end last season with two blown motors.

"It's always a concern," crew chief Mike Ford said on Friday at Richmond International Raceway. "That's why you hate a Chase situation. It could happen at any time.

"It's hard to swallow."

Ford said there weren't enough parts to determine why the engine blew after Hamlin led 74 laps in what he called the "fastest car I've ever had on the racetrack."

"There was definitely a piston gone," Ford said. "Definitely both valves were gone. Which happened first?"

Hamlin was considered a favorites to end Jimmie Johnson's championship run a year ago until a wreck at California and blown engines at Charlotte and Talladega. Ford blamed the Atlanta failure on bad parts and said it was good it happened before the Chase so Joe Gibbs Racing could prevent it from happening again.

But ultimately, Ford said, it's a game of Russian roulette.

"On a daily basis you try to avoid it," he said. "I mean, when you're living on performance and not street cars that run a hundred thousand miles it's a different world. It's always going to happen. You just try to balance it the best you can."

Hamlin, tied with Johnson for the most wins this season with five, isn't letting the situation affect his confidence.

"You really can't let it affect you," he said. "I've let it affect me over the last few years when we have mechanical issues and things like that, but there's nothing I can do about it. All I can do is go out there and lead every lap until that happens.

"For me, it's more for the guys at the shop to kind of figure out what's going on with that. ...I'm going into the Chase thinking that we're not going to have any. If we don't, we're going to be upfront when it really counts. If we don't have any mechanical failures and the driver keeps his head on straight we'll be just fine come [the season finale at] Homestead."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.