Winning races is a tough thing to accomplish, especially when considering the likes of the top-three in points like Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton haven‘t even won a race. But Hamlin has gone from third in points to sixth with a mix of bad luck, uncompetitive cars, and at least one lackadaisical attitude towards an up coming race. In the last seven races he’s only had one top-five finish, a fifth-place run at his best track of Pocono, mixed in with a couple of mediocre finishes, and three really bad finishes of 24th or worse.
He completely dismissed both road course races as not important and it showed as he finished 34th or worse at Sonoma and last week at Watkins Glen saying the team didn’t do any road course testing like all the other top teams because the races represent only two of the 36. The June 20th Sonoma race was where his bad luck streak all started and he hasn’t been able to shake the funk.
We see teams all the time in other sports resting players in the final games of the regular season to save them for the playoffs, but a cohesion has been broken that is sometimes hard to get back into the rhythm that afforded them the option to rest players. Hamlin didn’t take his road races seriously and it has now carried over into his performance in other races.
The final Race to the Chase will be at his home-state track of Richmond where he always run well at and hopefully they can begin to gain some momentum there as they head into the Chase for the Championship 10 race run.
This week at Michigan, Hamlin and his team have chosen to use the 10th place chassis from last years Michigan race rather than the winner from earlier this year, which doesn‘t sound very promising amid their current struggles. Crew chief Mike Ford and the team know a lot more than I do and don’t have to validate their reasons, but it’s similar to two weeks ago at Pocono when they didn’t use the winning chassis there that was 3-for-3 in wins. They did finish fifth in that race, but it makes you wonder why they wouldn’t go in with their absolute best at a track they won at.
Michigan is one of four tracks that Jimmie Johnson has never won at, but he’s been pretty good at crossing off tracks on his bucket list this season with wins at Bristol and Sonoma. He’s been good enough to win on several occasions, but always has a mishap near the end of what looked to be great days. In 17 career starts, he’s had only top-five finishes over his career. This week he’ll be using the chassis he used at Chicago where he finished 25th.
Kurt Busch finished third in the first Michigan race this season and has been tough on all the down force tracks capturing both of his wins this year at Charlotte and Atlanta. He has two career wins at Michigan, but a not-so attractive 19.4 career average finished helped dramatically by starting his Michigan career off with two 43rd place finishes during his rookie year in 2001.
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