Back injury will keep Denny Hamlin out of Chase

USA TODAY Sports

Despite sitting out five races, can Denny Hamlin make the Chase? The numbers don’t add up.

Basic arithmetic dictates that if Denny Hamlin sits out no more than five races with a compression fracture in his back, he could still make the Chase for what would be an eighth consecutive season.

In 2012, Hamlin accrued 180 points in the five races that he will miss this season (Martinsville, Texas, Kansas, Richmond and Talladega). And if you subtract that number from the total amount of points he had after the last regular season race, it would have placed him 18th overall. This would give him enough of a cushion to easily claim one of the two wildcard spots available.

However, it is far more complicated than simple math.

The above is operating under the assumption that Hamlin can match the performance level he had a year ago when he scored five wins and posted an average finish of 12.8, both of which were the second-highest of his career.

But what happens if Hamlin can't produce like he did in '12; can he still make the Chase?

The answer then is possible but not probable.

There are too many variables in play that need to go right if Hamlin is to be one of the 12 drivers competing for the championship.

The most imperative thing working against Hamlin is that he is already off to a slower start than he was a year ago at this time. Through five races in '12 he had collected a total of 171 points -- 26 more than he has currently.

At his current pace and taking into account he's going to miss five races, Hamlin would be just four points above what the point total was for the 20th-place cutoff last season. And while that barometer may be lower this year, it could just as easily be higher.

And what happens if the reliability issues that have thus far hindered the Toyota-powered teams continues?

Already we have seen five engine failures end the races of Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch at Daytona and Clint Bowyer at Fontana, not to mention the pre-race engine changes Busch and Hamlin endured at Phoenix?

While the numbers suggest that Hamlin can be afforded a couple of finishes in the 30s, anything more and that spells doom for his Chase hopes.

And what of the heavy hitters Hamlin will likely be competing against for one of those two coveted wildcards available?

As the standings look now Kevin Harvick (15th in points), Jeff Gordon (18th), Ryan Newman (20th) and Tony Stewart (22nd) would be Hamlin's wildcard competition. Just as Hamlin is, each is more than capable of winning multiple races.

Furthermore, because Hamlin will likely be lower in points than the above four drivers, he would lose any tiebreaker if they were to score the same number of wins.

All of which means even if Hamlin were to win a couple of races and finish in the top 20 in points it still might not be enough for him to get into the Chase.

And all this is assuming Hamlin is 100 percent when he returns and doesn't re-aggravate his injury along the way. Both of these are big ifs.

While it would make for an amazing story if he were to return and race his way into the Chase, reality along with the numbers simply doesn't add up. Which is why when the Chase begins in September, for the first time since 2006 in all likelihood it won't include a driver named Hamlin.

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