Power Rankings: Down Hamlin already eyeing 2012

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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Denny Hamlin is still looking for the formula that powered the 11 car to such success in 2010. (Getty Images)  
Denny Hamlin is still looking for the formula that powered the 11 car to such success in 2010. (Getty Images)  

Updated Aug. 22

Denny Hamlin may not yet be out but he's sure down.

After suffering through another miserable day Sunday at Michigan that ended with a trip into the wall and a 35th-place finish in the Pure Michigan 400, Hamlin's chances of challenging for the Sprint Cup championship are bleak.

In fact, Hamlin himself says the odds of him even getting into the Chase to have a shot at the title are on life support.

"I don't know," Hamlin said, shaking his head after his dismal day in the Irish Hills. "I'm going to do everything I can -- to get better. It's tough. Trust me, it's going to be very, very tough on a realistic standpoint for us to just go out there and say, 'You know what? We'll suck it up the next three weeks.' There's more to it than that at this point. We've got to crawl first these next three races before we even think about what happens at Chicago."

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Unless Hamlin can hang on to one of the two wild-card spots he currently holds, Chicago -- where the Chase begins in mid-September -- will be where his 2012 season begins.

Hamlin is at a point where he thinks that might not be the worst thing for the struggling Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 team.

"Who knows, maybe missing the Chase would be the best thing for us for next year," he said. "We could spend 10 weeks screwing around and thinking of new ways to make our cars better and not have a points race for 10 weeks.

"I want to make the Chase. Trust me. [But] missing the Chase opens the door for communication, for us to take more chances and experiment with new things and if it makes us better next year, so be it."

It's hard to believe the driver who won eight races last season and went down to the wire in the championship race with Jimmie Johnson is talking about being a spectator for this year's Chase.

But with a rash of engine problems, assorted mechanical problems and a dash of bad luck thrown in for good measure, Hamlin's 2011 has been more of a nightmare than the dream he had hoped for after last season's success.

He still holds a ticket to the big dance in the form of a wild card, and despite his pessimistic attitude on Sunday he still plans on doing whatever he can to somehow right the ship and not just make the playoffs but be a presence when the Chase begins.

"We have three weeks to get ourselves back on track," Hamlin said. "I've got to get back to doing some of the stuff I did last year that made me successful, whether it be communicating more with [crew chief] Mike [Ford], whatever that is, I'm willing to do, whether it's Mike traveling with me to and from the race track every single week, we have to do whatever we have to do to get back to that."

He had better hurry.

POWER RANKINGS
CurrentDriverPrevious
1Brad Keselowski2
Took over the Chase lead by 20 points thanks to a sixth place finish and Jimmie Johnson?s misfortune. This is now the Penske Racing driver?s championship to lose.
2Jimmie Johnson1
Saw his seven point lead evaporate thanks to a cut tire and trip into the wall on Sunday. Johnson now must hope a similar such fate happens to Keselowski next week at Homestead to have any shot at a sixth title.
3Kyle Busch4
Nearly ran the table in Phoenix by leading all practices and taking the pole had he been able to win the race. But a poor decision on lane choice for a late restart cost Busch a shot at Victory Lane.
4Kasey Kahne5
Ending the year on a positive note but wasn?t able to match his Phoenix victory of last November. Still a solid day with a fourth place performance.
5Clint Bowyer3
Was the victim of Jeff Gordon?s revenge that completely eliminated Bowyer from championship contention. He wasn?t an angel in the turn of events but Bowyer definitely got the worst of the situation.
6Denny Hamlin8
Hamlin?s second place finish in Phoenix a welcome rebound from two weeks of disappointment for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver. He?ll be a factor for a win next Sunday in Homestead.
7Kevin Harvick12
Snapped a 44-race winless drought with Sunday?s win ironically coming on the weekend when reports of his evacuation from Richard Childress Racing to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 broke out.
8Greg Biffle6
A decent day for ?The Biff? in Phoenix, who was able to dodge all the last lap craziness to bring home his Roush Fenway Racing Ford seventh.
9Joey Logano13
Minding his own business until getting swept up in the Gordon-Bowyer fight. Logano was on his way to a nice effort to follow up his ninth Nationwide Series win on Saturday.
10Ryan Newman14
Rough way to earn a fifth place finish as Newman was one of the unfortunate souls to get caught in the last lap crash on the main straightaway.
11Tony Stewart9
Not a god day at all for Smoke who spun late after making contact racing for position. A 19th place finish for Stewart.
12Matt Kenseth11
Will make the final Sprint Cup start of his career for Roush Fenway Racing next week at Homestead on the heels of a 14th place effort in Phoenix.
13Martin Truex Jr.10
His race was over nearly before it started with a blown engine. After a stellar regular season Truex Jr. has suffered mightily throughout the Chase.
14Carl Edwards15
An 11th place finish for Edwards as he brings to a close one of the most disappointing seasons in his career.
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