Fracture may not cripple Denny Hamlin's run at Chase

As a driver whose boss is a former pro football guy, Denny Hamlin needs to embrace the all-or-nothing mentality made famous by late iconic Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis:

Just win, baby.

Hamlin is going to have to scramble for victories in order to make the NASCAR Chase for the Championship for the eighth consecutive year.

His boss, former Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, has put together an interim game-plan during Hamlin's absence. Hamlin suffered a compression fracture in his back while crashing on the last lap of the Sprint Cup race at California's Auto Club Speedway, jockeying for the lead with arch-rival Joey Logano on March 24.

Veteran Mark Martin will drive Hamlin's No. 11 Toyota this week in Martinsville for a one-and-done deal before Brian Vickers steps in for an estimated four more races.

Hamlin will not accumulate any points during that stretch, which means he needs plenty of giddy-up to catch the rest of the field once he returns.

"I believe he can still make the Chase," teammate Kyle Busch tweeted last week with the hashtag "#keepfighting."

Here's how:

The first scenario is highly unlikely. Hamlin would have to finish in the Top 10 in points. That would mean Hamlin would have to average between a 3rd- and 4th-place finish over the final 16 races. So that's not going to happen.

The second one is more probable: Hamlin would need to finish in the Top 20 and have the most or second-most wins among the two drivers vying for the two wild-card spots.

That's very doable for Hamlin. He has 14 wins since the start of 2010 season, tied with Jimmie Johnson for first. Hamlin also joins Johnson as the only drivers never to miss the Chase in a full-time Cup season over the last seven years.

"I believe he can make the Chase," said Kyle Petty, a former driver and now an analyst for Speed TV. "This is the perfect scenario for that magical wild-card spot. He can miss a number of races, yet Denny can still win three or four races in that span of time. The wild card becomes a win situation. They can put the team in the top 20 with eyes closed."

Doing the math based on Chase qualifying history, Hamlin (currently in 10th place) needs about 495 points — and a win or, better yet, two — before the Chase field is set after the September race in Richmond.

"Everything we're doing is speculation," Petty said. "When he came back from knee surgery [in 2010], he came back with a vengeance. He refocused his desire, and that's what he will be trying to do again. There is nothing worse as a race car driver than watching someone else driving your car. There's a million different scenarios but I don't think the odds are against him."

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Danica's doings

NASCAR Golden Girl Danica Patrick has struggled mightily since finishing 8th in the inaugural Sprint Cup points race in Daytona in February.

To the point, she has finished 39th, 33rd, 28th and 26th in the ensuing four races. She is now 29th in the Cup standings.

Based on her struggles at shorter tracks, it's going to be a blessing to feel the superspeedway buzz of Talladega on May 5.

"She did well in Daytona but I'm not sure how long that will continue because it is a very difficult car to drive," former IndyCar rival Helio Castroneves told me recently — and quite prophetically. "They don't have many tracks like Daytona and they have 36 races this season. It's going to take a while for her to understand how to drive those heavy cars, but those type of tracks that are flat out. It's very similar to what an Indy Car does."

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