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To hear Denny Hamlin tell it, it wasn't just the 14th-place finish at Homestead that doomed his championship hopes.
It was a number of other small things, including when he was forced to pit at Phoenix last week while leading due to poor fuel mileage.
"It's so many turning points in this Chase where it can go one way or the other or in anybody's favor," said Hamlin, who ultimately finished second in the points. "Just think about all of the situations you wish you could go back and change; right now it's more thinking about that."
Hamlin said being short on the fuel mileage because of increased engine power in his Toyota this season ultimately hurt him. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver said "that's just one of the things on the list that we have got to work on."
Had Hamlin gotten better fuel mileage – or tried to make it to the end at Phoenix – he could have had a 70 or 80 point lead heading into the season finale. Instead, it was only 15 points (he lost by 39).
Having a big lead obviously would have turned out better for Hamlin, he said, but added, "There would not have been as much hype about the race because we could have coasted...to a win today."
"But like I said, there's many, many aspects of a winning race team," he said, "and you've got to have all of those parts and pieces put together."
Will this motivate Hamlin further or sink his attitude to the point of hampering his performance?
"As competitive as what we are right now...there's lots of things that I could do to be better and there's lots of things that we can do as a team to be better," he said. "So my focus, when Monday comes around, is what I need to do to execute all of those things."
On television, on the radio and in the media center, Kevin Harvick repeated himself all three times he was asked about his incident with Kyle Busch.
Busch, he said, "raced me like a clown all day."
Harvick, unapologetic, said that on several occasions during the Homestead race, Busch "cut me off and ran up in front of me."
"The last time, I just didn't lift," Harvick said.
"Three-wide, on the back bumper, running into me – I just had enough," Harvick repeated.
Busch's teammate Denny Hamlin, sitting next to Harvick in the media center, couldn't help but interject after hearing Harvick's words (Harvick's actions resulted in Hamlin being trapped one lap down, effectively ending his championship hopes).
"Sounds like how your teammates raced me all day," Hamlin told Harvick.
Responded Harvick: "I just parked yours."
Busch was obviously unhappy with the incident and said despite an attempt to clear the air with Harvick before the race began, he ended up wrecked.
"It's very unfortunate," Busch said. "It's just a guy that doesn't have his head on straight apparently today. I thought everything was good.
"I talked to him in the pre-race, in the driver's meeting and all of that, but he's such a two-faced guy it just doesn't matter."
Twitter went quiet shortly after Jimmie Johnson won his incredible fifth consecutive championship – a feat unmatched in NASCAR history.
I asked fans how they were feeling afterward. Here are some of their replies:
@watson16: pretty disappointed at the moment. Not Just me a lot of my friends are too
@amber_cntrygrl: I decided to go hunting instead of watching the final race. I knew who the hell would win the cup, so why bother watching? :/
@HRH0308: JJ's 5 champ has done more damage to the sport than Jr's struggles - no one is that damn lucky!
@BigRob673: gonna be unfollowing a lot of NAPCAR names. It is just to boring, with 1 car dominating the points.
@KatieMcD88: So disappointed. I don't have to like it but you have got to give JJ and Chad the respect.
@blp2008: Words can't express how pissed off I am about him winning again.
@just_denise: I'm happy with Jimmie winning. I actually like him and Chad. But glad season is over and hope Jr makes some changes.
@SwayWithMe1: I'm happy for Jimmie. I wouldn't have minded another team win but I think Jimmie deserves it. He and his team are the best.
@Emergiblog: Just a little sick 2 my stomach with 48. Next year will focus on Kasey and not get so emotionally involved with sport as a whole
@Thummper08: We've hone on to bigger n better things. Football !!!!! We've seen this Movie Before !!!! Good luck
@xMalx: I feel sick to my stomach. At this point NASCAR is just embarrassing. 5 years?Nothing left to say. Over it.
@AllisonW83: I just threw-up a lil in my mouth
@MsNascar47: I'm really happy, and have to wonder if fans felt the same for Richard Petty as they do Jimmie - don't get it.
@luvjunebug88: Turned off. season over. If Dale can hang in drive piles of junk RH gives him guess I'll be back to cheer him on next yr.
@FoxFire3: I have decided to quit following u so put that n ur pipe and smoke it
@RoushGirl17: Well I'm depressed that the season is over, amazed by that 48 team, and looking forward to what next year will bring.
@jimmysand1: I'm in awe of the accomplishment but was hoping for a change to juggle what's become the norm
@simracer: freakin speechless
@kbabsglory: hey I'm not a JJ fan but you can't begrudge the man his due place. They earned it, this was not a gift.
@the14smoke: sorry...had to clean up my vomit before it stained &dreaming that tomorrow we hear 48 failed post race and denny gets crowned!!
@KarlaH48: I think its awesome. Good job 48 team.
@kelleyryan11: I guess it is just an empty cup if someone can win it 5 times in a row.
@pm3900: Disgusted #Nascar got what they wanted! Said KH sped when he was leading out the pits. That got him the title again!
@Foxeychik88: pissed off disgusted angry
@knitwitshair: I am excited! I think it is an incredible feat and in the future people will get over it, but I think it's cool
@alteringpixels: feeling empty and a little like the girl the nite after due to apathetic interview with #nascar 5x champ
@ksmith8202: getting really tired of NASCAR & of Jimmie Johnson! Not sure if I'm going to watch to much next season. Kind of over it.....
@chevygrlloves88: good job for him but damn I'm sick of seeing him win makes me sick!!! So wanted to see a new Champion like Harvick!!!
@ottonut: I was marking on my calendar when to sell my BMS tickets.
@chels2522: I love how ppl are telling you they're pissed.Any real#NASCAR fan has to respect what JJ just did, whether you like him or not.
@jessica794: would have liked a different outcome but I'm not in the camp that got pissed off or thought it was scripted. JJ's just good
@Papaw_Wayne: and as I promissed...48 win the 10 race FARCE that is "the chase" and I'm out of here! SO LONG NA$CAR!!!
@betsywhy: first time in my life I'm glad the season is over
@sarajo30: total let down
@dhammis: have to give credit where it is due. Chad and JJ are tough.
@PDXLeelaB: we have moved on to something more interesting - sick of the damned reruns.
@JenGruszka: there's nothing new to say. they are invincible.
@NCL55: This is awesome, historic and so deserved! Jimmie and Chad are 5 Time Champs! Such excellence in our fav sport!
@digertwo: I never wished for a flat tire more in my life..ruins the sport if you ask me
@CeeJayTravels: This SUCKS! I can't fault the #48, but this is so DISAPPOINTING. I feel kinda numb..
@kebzach: so sick of the #48 winning. Even more sick of the fact that no other teams can or will figure out a way to beat him.
@MelissaM88: Some of us are still here. I honestly think that we all KNEW who was going to win it. So, we're kinda pissy. Bored..
@TerriAnn14: I know one day we will look back on this and be glad we witnessed history but right now I am just so over it.
@khendrix1: Bored as hell. Why should we even watch anymore?
@KayeReshaw: It's a great day for racing! Historic. The team worked really hard and just did it better.
@ruffio77: would of prefered someone else to win it but when you as good as JJ and Chad what else can you expect other then a championship.
@KarlBarthJr: I'm so sick to my stomach. Screw Jimmie and his 5th title. He won't get #6 next year.
@ericmitz: kind of mad at NASCAR fans for threatening to stop watching, even after an amazing season.
@Cowboy_Witch: Hoping all the "fans" who promise they're done with#NASCAR enjoy IndyCar next season. We don't need them anyway.
@hollieh75883: pretty pissed. Think I broke my tv remote cause I threw it lol
@Nytewynd18: upset, deisappoitned, depressed ... do you really want to know how we're feeling? and ready to destroy Harvick
@RPMsandTKOs: i want to fly to south beach and kick Chad and Jimmie in the nuts
@iSirVictor: I was out looking for something to break to help cope with the loss.
@jhcards: NASCAR gives JJ the championship and NASCAR just lost a fan forever. Only race i'll watch is the 500
@rowdygirl1851: Lots of us disgusted. Nothing else to say.
Jimmie Johnson has achieved what once seemed impossible – and still does, in some ways.
Johnson finished second in Sunday's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, good enough to win his fifth straight NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.
Only one driver – Cale Yarborough – had even won three in a row. Johnson has now won five, just two short of the all-time career record of seven, held by Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.
Click the comments section below for a recap of what fans had to say in Sunday's wild Ford 400, which was won by Carl Edwards.
It's hard to imagine a time when Kevin Harvick wasn't the scrappy, hard-nosed NASCAR driver he is now, but forget what you know about Harvick for a moment and picture this:
Harvick was a scrawny freshman wrestling in the 98-pound weight class on the junior varsity team at North High School in Bakersfield, Calif. And he wanted to quit.
His coaches, though, urged him to persevere. And so the kid kept at it and stayed on the team, pushing himself through what he called "the hardest thing you could ever challenge yourself to do." He eventually won the CIF sectional title as a 140-pound senior.
Why do we bring this up now? Because Harvick, who has a chance to win his first Sprint Cup championship on Sunday, has applied many of the lessons from his wrestling days to his racing career – and this year's title chase.
"This type of situation is more similar (to wrestling) than (racing) on a week-to-week basis because it's kind of that last-match, last-race," Harvick said. "You have kind of that same emotion.
"You know, going into it, you don't feel like there's any way they're going to beat you. Obviously we're at a deficit, but in our minds, we feel like they shouldn't beat us; we feel like we're better than they are. And that's just that mentality that was instilled in me in wrestling."
As a wrestler, Harvick learned quickly that if he thought there was a chance he could get beat, he would. Because of that, he said, "I never go into a weekend feeling like, 'We're gonna lose.'"
The same holds true for Sunday.
Harvick knows it's going to be tough to overcome a 46-point deficit to Denny Hamlin and also out-point Jimmie Johnson in the process. But his mentality is this: "I sit here thinking we're going to beat both those guys and there's nothing that's going to get in our way as far as beating them."
In wrestling, there are individual matches that add up for a total team score. So while individuals can win, the team may ultimately come up short. Harvick drew a comparison between that and this weekend's fight, saying even if he wins the race, it may not be enough for the "team trophy."
But he promised to give it his best shot.
Harvick played soccer and baseball up until high school, because he could participate in them during the week and still race on the weekends. As he got to high school, wrestling (a winter sport) was the only sport he could play during the racing offseason.
And to hear him tell it, he's glad he stuck with wrestling – as difficult as it was at the time.
"It was the best thing I ever did to prepare me for this level," Harvick said. "You want to quit about every other day, but you have these great coaches that give you these great speeches as to why you should keep pushing forward.
"It was never about being content with how good you were at the time, it was, 'How are you going to get better? How are you going to get in better shape? How are you going to learn this move?' It was you against yourself."
Sounds like a NASCAR commercial, doesn't it?
Dale Earnhardt Jr. acknowledged the possibility of a crew chief change on Friday afternoon, saying he was leaving it up to team owner Rick Hendrick to make the necessary changes to his No. 88 team in the offseason.
Earnhardt Jr. has been with crew chief Lance McGrew since midway through last season, but the pairing has yet to result in much success.
After saying it was "pretty obvious we aren't very good and we need to do some things to get better," Earnhardt Jr. was asked whether that meant a crew chief change was in order.
Earnhardt Jr. chuckled softly in response, then chose his words carefully.
"I've asked Rick to not put me in that situation before the season was over with, so we could focus on what we're doing at the racetrack," he said. "This is still a race; this is still a race weekend. I think out of respect for the fact that we've got one event left to run...it was best not to get into those discussions before the end of the season.
"I've gotten into those discussions before the end of the season and I've never liked it. I've never liked being a part of 'em. I never liked trying to play both sides of the fence. You've got to come to the track and finish the season out...and you've got to pretend you're here bringing your best bullets to the fight.
"I'd just as soon not get in the middle of that stuff until the last race is run, so we can concentrate on what we're doing here this weekend. Because it is a race and it is a race weekend, and if we don't come here with good intentions, it's a missed opportunity."
If that makes it sound like a foregone conclusion that he and McGrew will part ways, Earnhardt Jr. cautioned that it's "not a no-brainer. I'm not certain that's what's going to happen."
Crew chief change or not, Earnhardt Jr. described his season as a "missed opportunity." He noted that the team was in the top 12 for the first half of the season and was working its way back toward a Chase spot when it stumbled and reverted to its 2009 form.
"We haven't been able to put anything together the last half of the season," he said. "Nothing's worked for us, really, at all. It's been disappointing, because I feel really felt like we were better at the start of the year, and we were trying to prove that and seeing some good signs.
"And the second half, it just hasn't been good at all. We haven't been really competitive in the second half of the season."
Running poorly has taken its toll on Earnhardt Jr., he said. He recently told the blog AllLeftTurns.com that he was proud of his ability to stay positive despite his own fear he would "crumble mentally with such high hopes and such marginal results."
Friday, he echoed some of those sentiments, saying that despite maintaining a belief in his abilities, "The last couple years have been hard to deal with."
"They've been bad; we ain't run good – I ain't run good," he said. "And it's been real hard to deal with. For whatever it's worth – probably not too much – but I still feel some resolve in my abilities and still feel some confidence in what I can do. I guess I'm glad that's still there."
If there is a change in the offseason, Earnhardt Jr. said he doesn't want to be a part of the decision-making process.
"I'm just going to sit back," he said. "I've dove into those deals headfirst in the past; I'm not doing it this time. I obviously haven't had too good of an effect on the last several changes I've made. So maybe I'm not the person to be in there making those kind of decisions.
"I don't want to have any effect on whatever that decision is. I've enjoyed working with Lance; I've enjoyed working with this team. We try really hard; they try really hard. No one person's failed this team this season. I'll let Rick and his boys get together, and whatever they decide to do, they decide to do."
NASCAR chairman Brian France just finished up giving his annual year-end comments to reporters, and frankly, I found it to be very disconcerting.
As usual, France's ideas about the sport and his evaluation of its current health is much different than many fans. That's to be expected, given his role and history.
But what stunned me was that France – who has tried to be more engaged than ever by holding "town hall" meetings with drivers and follows the results of a 12,000-member Fan Council – seemed to have no clue what many fans think.
For example: France was incredulous and seemed genuinely taken aback when a reporter asked him about the many fans who don't like the Chase.
"You've met somebody that's telling you that?" he asked, as if such people were as rare as a unicorn.
I don't know about you, but I meet people every day who say that. Personally, I disagree with them – I think the Chase is a good thing – but I acknowledge that there's a sizable number of fans who want to scrap it (an informal poll in September showed a 50-50 split).
How could France not realize that potentially half of his fan base hates the Chase? I understand if he disagrees with them, but to not even recognize that there's a major chunk of people who are anti-Chase gives the appearance that he's out of touch.
France also went out of his way to effusively praise ESPN – the network that has riled a vocal group of fans who believe it makes races unwatchable with excessive commercials and difficult-to-follow action.
France isn't in a position to bash NASCAR's TV partners, of course, but being so complimentary seemed like a slap in the face to fans who are begging for more watchable broadcasts.
"I think the broadcast has been as good as I've seen in a long time," he said. "I think the energy level and the calling of the action, the on-air talent, is top-notch right now on their network."
Again, while I only agree with part of the anti-ESPN crowd (the part concerning far too many commercials), you'd think France would at least be aware there's a decent number of people who want to feel like they're being heard on the topic.
Clearly, they aren't.
What is NASCAR's Fan Council telling France? What are the people around him telling him? Is it all sunshine and rainbows?
There were some major positives, as France hinted at shortening some of the races. But much of the talk seemed to be disconnected as to what fans using social media are saying.
France touched on several other topics that seemed surprising as well:
• He said NASCAR is "not monitoring" the potential NFL lockout – which would leave NASCAR with no competition next fall – and said "Our hope is that all leagues do well." Wouldn't NASCAR have a plan in place to capitalize on the absence of the NFL and grab those sports fans with nothing to watch on Sundays?
• He said moving to earlier start times this season came with a risk of "ratings erosion" – even though NASCAR said earlier start times were expected to improve ratings – and that ESPN was in fewer homes than ABC but had a "younger demographic" than the broadcast network did (Some fans say they haven't been able to watch the second half of the season due to cutting their cable in a bad economy).
• On the topic of declining attendance/ratings, France said everything in the sport would fix itself if the racing was good. France noted, "If we keep the racing as good as it's been in the second half of this season, I'm not worried a thing about the popularity of the sport." Shouldn't he be? Instead of viewing the dwindling audience as a mandate for change and a call to action, France said officials won't make decisions based on a year of poor ratings.
On a personal note, this is what I find so frustrating about NASCAR. Instead of publicly acknowledging issues in the sport and saying: "Look, we know we have problems – we're working on them, please stick with us as we figure this thing out," everything is politics and spin and denials.
Why can't France say, "Now, I know there's a bunch of people who aren't fans of the Chase, but I really think they'll grow to like it over time" as an acknowledgement they're being heard? Why can't he say, "Sure, there are a lot of commercials, but I would ask fans to be patient with that as we figure out a way to make the broadcasts more watchable" as a sign of hope?
Is he really unaware of how fans feel about the sport? I hope that's not true.
After all, if NASCAR doesn't understand what's driving some fans to leave, it's going to be tough to get them back.
Kasey Kahne will have surgery on both knees to repair a condition called "Plica Syndrome," the driver said Friday morning.
Kahne said he's often in pain after races and walks with a limp for hours afterward, a result of his condition. According to webmd.com, Plica Syndrome is "a fold of tissue in the knee joint. When it gets irritated from overuse, swelling and knee pain can result."
"It hurts all the time," Kahne said. "When I get out of the car, I limp for awhile after the race. Some days it's a lot worse than others, and I just limp around. So I just wanted to get it taken care of."
The surgery is scheduled for early Tuesday morning in Charlotte, Kahne said. The driver said the same doctors who worked with Denny Hamlin are working with Kahne.
Kahne is expected to miss the upcoming Daytona tire test, but expects to be able to test in January and be fully ready for the 2011 season.
The story was first reported by Holly Cain of Fanhouse.
It was just last year – May 2009, to be specific – when Denny Hamlin spoke of how aggressive teammate Kyle Busch was, and how it would always result in Busch winning more often than Hamlin.
Hamlin felt it just wasn't in the cards for him to be a frequent visitor to Victory Lane.
As he said at the time:
"It's not my style. My style and Kyle's style are two different things. Through our careers, he's always going to be a guy that has more race wins than I will – but I'm battling for after Race 36, who's on top there. ... If I'm going to win a championship, I need to run top-five every week. I don't need to win every week."
When he spoke those words, Hamlin had only four career Cup victories in three-and-a-half seasons of competition.
Since he made those comments, he's won 12 Cup races (Busch, meanwhile, has only won four races in the same time span).
What the heck? How did Hamlin – who still labels himself as "the consistently top-five guy" – win eight races this season?
If you think about it, what Hamlin has done is statistically amazing: In the second half of 2009, he matched his career wins total in a single season by winning four races. Then this season, he matched his career wins total again by winning eight.
Hamlin showed few signs this was coming. He swept Pocono in his rookie season, then won once in 2007 (New Hampshire) and once in 2008 (Martinsville).
Then, starting at Pocono last year, he went on a tear. He won one race per month in the final four months of the season and followed it up this year with the eight victories.
Reminded of his comments now, how does Hamlin explain what his winning ways?
"I had never seen the speed in us we've had this year at the point that I did that interview last year," he said. "I feel like I found another gear somewhere in the middle-to-end of last season – whether it's in my cars or in myself.
"Ever since then, we've had the speed that Kyle's had."
Hamlin figured if he ever won a championship, it would be with only a handful of wins in a season. Now on the cusp of his first title, Hamlin could claim the 2010 Sprint Cup as this year's top winner.
"I think it's just my mentality and my conservative approach on the racetrack most times that I say I will probably never win as many races as him," Hamlin said, "because he puts himself out there at risk a little bit more than I do.
"Sometimes it will pay off and sometimes you'll finish 30th because of it. I'm just more the consistently top-five guy. That's pretty much been my M.O. for my whole career."
Perhaps. But it sure doesn't seem that way anymore.
On Thursday, NASCAR's three championship contenders held a press conference to discuss Sunday's season finale. Along with the usual "blah, blah, blah, we're going to try to do our best" quotes, there were some decent one-liners and trash-talk among the three drivers.
We skipped the boring parts and went straight for the good stuff. Here's a sampling of some of the best moments from Thursday's media event.
On the beards worn by Harvick and Johnson, but not Hamlin:
Hamlin: "I'm a Gillette Young Gun."
Harvick: "Even though you're 30? (Hamlin turned 30 today) Don't they kick you out when you're 30? I thought that was the way it was supposed to work."
Harvick, on staying at Ron Hornaday's house while coming up as a young driver (as Johnson also did):
Harvick: "I think probably the biggest thing we learned to do at Ron's was drink beer."
Harvick, responding to Hamlin's comment that the press conference was "one of the most awkward 30 minutes" he had been through:
Harvick: "(Hamlin) definitely seems the like the most nervous, though."
Hamlin (seated with Johnson on one side and Harvick on the other): "I'm between you!"
Hamlin on why he said the press conference was awkward:
Hamlin: "Oh, just all the shit-talking that's going on, then we're like two feet away. Other than that, it's good now. I'm OK."
The drivers, asked what bothers them the most about the other two competitors:
Johnson: "For me, (what bothers me about) Denny is the fact that he's in the lead. I guess Kevin, (it's that) he's lurking back there in third. ... What else did you expect out of me? Come on."
Hamlin: "I was told in these situations to deflect, so I turn to Kevin."
Harvick: "I'll give you something. I think the thing that irks me the most probably about Denny's team is his crew chief. Jimmie is the fact that he's probably won the last four championships."
Hamlin, on how he deals with the mental stress of the championship:
Hamlin: "I try not to give myself too much time with myself. You know what I mean?"
On Hamlin's poor fuel mileage last week at Phoenix:
Harvick: "The fuel mileage is going to be a big factor was we come to Sunday. (Turns to Hamlin) I hope they put that same carburetor on your car Sunday."
Hamlin: "(The carburetor) won't be."
Johnson: "Hopefully it's one that's worse." (smiles)
On the "Boys, have at it" highlights video shown prior to the press conference:
Johnson: "One of the things we were laughing at on the video is how consistent some drivers were in every highlight. Might think about that one a little bit." (laughs)
Johnson trying to rattle Hamlin, Part 1:
Johnson: "We have nothing to lose. This guy does."
Johnson trying to rattle Hamlin, Part 2:
Johnson: "I'm just trying to remind Denny that he has everything to lose and we're only 15 points back. Really not anything to fret over, Denny. That's it, you know, just having fun."
Hamlin responding to Johnson's mind games:
Hamlin: "I don't have the crown on my head. I think if (I win) the championship, I think half the headlines will talk about us winning the championship and the other will be Jimmie Johnson's streak ending. So I think he has equally just as much to lose as we have to gain."
Johnson, on whether he thinks his trash-talk toward Hamlin will work:
Johnson: "Based on his expression, I don't think he was even listening to me. So I don't know if it went well."
The closest Chase ever has come down to one race, a fitting finale to what has been one of the more entertaining NASCAR seasons in recent memory.
Points leader Denny Hamlin, in search of his first championship, has a 15-point advantage over Jimmie Johnson – the four-time defending Cup winner. Kevin Harvick is still alive as well, just 46 points back.
Who will win? It's anybody's guess.
To follow along as the weekend unfolds, keep checking back here for updates to SB Nation's live blog from Miami-Homestead.
And don't forget to join us for the final chat of the season on Sunday, where you can talk about the race with other fans.
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