Sunday, November 28, 2010

NASCAR Boasts Closest Battle in Chase History With One To Go

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Half predicting, half declaring next week's NASCAR season finale will be "one hell of a show," Jimmie Johnson emerged from his fifth-place finishing No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet smiling and feeling good about his chances for an unprecedented fifth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

You'd have thought he won the race. He's not even leading the standings.

That designation belongs to the unhappiest of Sunday afternoon drivers, Denny Hamlin, who, after leading a race-best 190 laps, had to pit for fuel with 14 laps remaining at Phoenix International Raceway.

Hamlin heads to next week's final showdown at Homestead-Miami Speedway a scant 15 points ahead of Johnson in the closest championship fight since the Chase playoff format was installed in 2004. Third place Kevin Harvick is still very much in the thick of things, 46 points behind Hamlin.

The in-car television camera showed Hamlin yanking off his driving gloves and throwing them one by one against the dashboard of his 12th place No. 11 FedEx Toyota after the race's cool-down lap. Sitting on pit wall immediately after the race, he threw a water bottle and sullenly awaited his television interview.

"Yeah, it's pretty disappointing,'' Hamlin said, taking a long pause before answering questions. "We were in a good position there to look pretty good going into next week.

"It's tough to not be happy having a points lead going into the last race but. ... I was sitting pretty.''


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