Denny Hamlin had speed but little luck

July, 17, 2012
07/17/12
2:56
PM ET

As is my custom when I'm not traveling the Eastern seaboard, gallivanting about on vacation, I was participating in the ESPN.com chat during Sunday's Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire.

When asked what I thought about Denny Hamlin's chances to win when he was putting a straight-up whuppin' on the field, I said he had the dominant car but that the dominant car often does not end up in Victory Lane.

Not exactly a dead-on prognostication, but I'm a bit of a soothsayer.

It's unfortunate to see a race decided on poor communication, but it did provide some drama watching Hamlin move through the field in hunt of Kasey Kahne and the lead, a fun reminder on how interesting racing can be when tires force more in-race strategy.

According to AccuScore computer simulations on NASCAR.com, Kahne is essentially a lock to make the Chase. The big question: Is he on the short list of title contenders?

After his molasses-slow start, Kahne has put up the fourth-most points in the Cup series over the past 13 races, trailing only Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson.

Kahne is now third for the season in fastest laps run, trailing teammates Johnson and Jeff Gordon.

Trivia break! How many drivers were ahead of Kahne on points after six races?

Hendrick power

Hendrick Motorsports started the season with an unforeseen 10 races without a win, the longest the team has gone without a victory to start a season since 1993.

Since then, Hendrick has returned to superpower status with five wins in the past nine races. Those five wins are the most by any team this season.

Not only has the team won more, but it also has been more consistent. In the first 10 races, the team had an average finish of 15.3 and a 52.5 top-10 percentage. In the past nine, it had an average finish of 10.3 and 66.7 top-10 percentage.

Trivia break! Which driver has led the most laps in a single New Hampshire race that he didn't win?

Loudon clear

Hamlin had the fastest car at New Hampshire. He ran the fastest lap 85 times out of the 301 circuits. The next-highest total was 44 from Kahne, followed by Johnson with 31.

Furthermore, those 85 fastest laps run were the second-highest total at New Hampshire dating to 2005, when NASCAR began tracking the stat. The only driver with a higher total was Clint Bowyer in 2010 with 89. Oh, Bowyer won that race. Hamlin didn't.

Trivia break! Who are the only drivers this season to lead more laps than Hamlin?

Trivia break answers

1. Thirty drivers were ahead of Kahne, as he was 31st, 133 points out of the lead.

2. Gordon led 257 laps in November 2001 but finished 15th.

3. Johnson and Greg Biffle are the only drivers to lead more laps than Hamlin this year.

Matt Willis has been a studio researcher at ESPN since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2006 with a degree in journalism. While there, he worked on ICTV, on shows such as "Ya Think You Know Sports?" and "Sports Final." He also was a member of the IC Comedy Club and figures about half of the jokes he makes in his column are actually funny.

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