Cory Mccartney
Thursday July 29th, 2010

1. Have you seen Denny's mojo?

It was back in 2005 that American Express rolled out an advertising campaign for the U.S. Open asking if Andy Roddick would "get his mojo back." It, of course, famously blew up in their faces as Roddick was knocked out in the first round, but it's the spirit of the message and not the punchline of a result that the Racing Fan is focusing on.

With just six races before the Chase, it's high time we send out a search party for Denny Hamlin's mojo. In the immortal words of Warren G (or was it Young Guns' Charley Bowdre? "mount up."

Our hunt begins somewhere between Brooklyn, Mich., and Sonoma, Calif., which is where Hamlin seemingly lost his magic as he went from being the spring's hottest driver to fading in the blazing summer sun.

Just look at the numbers. Here are Hamlin's stats from Martinsville to Michigan:

Races: 10 Wins: 5 Avg. finish: 7.2 Laps led: 579

And his stats since that June 13th win at Michigan:

Races: 5 Wins: 0 Avg. finish: 19 Laps led: 4

So what has happened to the driver everyone crowned as the most logical choice to dethrone four-time champion Jimmie Johnson (my apologies to points leader Kevin Harvick)? Of the last five tracks, Sonoma, Daytona, Chicagoland and Indianapolis are among Hamlin's worst; he doesn't average better than a 16.8 finish on any of them. He did post a top-10 finish at Chicagoland and it's hard to get a real read on unpredictable races like Sonoma and Daytona, but what is alarming is his performance at New Hampshire. In eight previous races, Hamlin had just two finishes worse than ninth, but finished 14th and failed to lead a single lap.

There's the possibility that with five wins, which ties J.J. for the most this season, he and crew chief Mike Ford have the luxury of trying new things with their setups without having the pressure of trying to make the Chase. It's not out of the question considering Hamlin has five career wins on Chase tracks, including two this season.

But the more logical reason for Hamlin's decline is that the stranglehold Joe Gibbs Racing held over the series with the return of the spoiler (JGR won seven of 10 races) has disintegrated.

Along with Hamlin's recent struggles, teammate Kyle Busch has just one top-10 in the last six races to go along with three finishes of 20th or worse, and while Joey Logano has three top 10s in the span, he's also been 33rd, 29th and 19th.

The rest of the series has caught up with JGR, but there's good news and even better news for Hamlin. The good news? The six tracks leading up to the playoff include three tracks in which he's taken the No. 11 to Victory Lane. There's also Watkins Glen, where he has the third-highest average finish among all active drivers (7.5). The even better news? Next up is Pocono, a track Hamlin has owned, winning four times in nine starts.

A season sweep of the tri-oval would go a long way toward putting him back on track. But with 50 bonus points already in his back pocket heading into the Chase, it's consistency that needs to be Hamlin's biggest objective over the next six weeks. That will put the mojo squarely back in his pit box.

2. NASCAR has taken heat for not releasing the names of the two drivers who were fined for making disparaging comments about the series -- according to an ESPN report, it was Hamlin and Ryan Newman who drew those fines -- and not following the precedent set by the NBA and NFL when one of its players or coaches rips the league or an official.

Transparency may be the standard, but the only problem with pushing for it from NASCAR is that we're forgetting that that NASCAR isn't the NFL or NBA.

Unlike NASCAR, the other leagues don't rely on sponsors as a source of identity for its athletes. If NASCAR were to publicly oust Hamlin and Newman, if they are the drivers in question, what would it mean to image-conscious sponsors and the drivers' ability to lure future sponsorship deals?

The last thing a sponsor that's socking millions into NASCAR wants to hear is that the driver they're paying to be the face of their product is blasting the sport they're investing in. That's why NASCAR is keeping things quiet, because it understands it is pushing a product that needs to be accessible for companies. It can't risk alienating partners and giving them any reason to leave when it's already struggling to keep sponsors.

It may seem a strange stance to allow drivers to have free reign on the track, tell them you want them to feel free to express their opinions and then fine them when those opinions happen to belittle the sport, but at the end of the day NASCAR wants its product (i.e. drivers) to be safe investments, not loose cannons who can scare away multi-million dollar clients.

4 -- Drivers who have led more than 86 laps in a running of the Brickyard 400 but failed to win.

2 -- Juan Pablo Montoya has done it twice, leading 116 laps in '09 (the most for any non-winner in the event's 17 years) and 86 last weekend.

Hamlin is the easy pick, but Roush Fenway Racing seems poised to end its frustrations. Carl Edwards has cracked the top 10 in each of the last three races and Greg Biffle was third a week ago at Indianapolis. Putting a driver in Victory Lane would certainly end an emotional week on a positive note with team owner Jack Roush in intensive care after a plane crash. I'm going with Edwards to end the drought and give RFR its first win since last November.

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