NASCAR Updates - Week of September 24th
Denny Hamlin won his fifth Sprint Cup race of the season with a dominating run at New Hampshire motor speedway on Sunday. Hamlin made a bold prediction after his 16th place finish last week, tweeting "[w]e will win next week" after the race. He backed up those words in a big way at New Hampshire, as he led for 193 of the 300 laps, including the final 52. Hamlin's win was especially impressive considering he started the race in 32nd position.
While Hamlin may have captured a great win at New Hampshire, it is Jimmy Johnson who gained the most from the race. Johnson finished New Hampshire in second place, propelling him into the lead in the Chase for the Sprint Cup after two races. He has finished second in each of the first two Chase races and leads Brad Keselowski by one point. Hamlin is in third, seven points behind the leader. Johnson's fast start bodes well for his chances to win the Chase -- he is a five-time champion and this is his best start ever to the ten-race playoff. With his experience in holding off opponents, an early lead is not a welcome sign for the challenging drivers.
This week the Chase heads to the Dover International Speedway for the AAA 400, with the race starting at 2 p.m. on Sunday September 30th. History suggests it will be Johnson, not Hamlin, who will be able to build on his result in New Hampshire. Johnson loves racing at Dover's one-mile oval; he is a seven-time winner at Dover, including the race earlier in the season, and he has fifteen top-10 finishes in his 21 starts at the racetrack. Right now, Johnson has to be considered the early favorite for the race.
It's likely that Hamlin will have a much harder time keeping in touch with Johnson this week. He has openly stated his disdain for Dover International Speedway, and his results reflect this -- he has an average finish of 20.5 in 13 career starts. If Hamlin wants to stay within touching distance of Johnson in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, he will have to have an improvement in both attitude and results.
In other news, Kurt Busch announced that he will be driving for Furniture Row Racing starting in 2013. The Denver-based team will be Busch's third in three years after he left Penske Racing at the end of last season. On paper Busch is a big upgrade for Furniture Row over its current driver Regan Smith. Smith has just one career win, while Busch has won 24 Sprint Cup races and the 2010 NASCAR Sprint All-Star race. Although he is ranked 25th this season, Furniture Row hopes Busch can recapture some of his past glory and improve a team that has just one Cup race victory in its eight-year history.