The tweet went out on April 18, an S.O.S. delivered from the iPad of NASCAR's biggest disappointment of 2011, the day after
You have to admire Hamlin's confidence, because so far this has been a lost season for the driver who came in second in the final standings last year. Through eight races, Hamlin has only one top-10 finish -- a seventh place run at Las Vegas in early March -- and is currently 17th in the standings. What's been his problem? You name it: engine woes, pit road gaffes, fuel mileage shortcomings and just plain bad racing luck.
Yet Hamlin has been in this position before -- just last year, in fact. After seven races in 2010, Hamlin was 18th in the standings. But then, once the rear-wings on the Cup cars were replaced with the spoiler, he turned it on, winning three of the next six races and, in the process, moving 12 places in the points to sixth.
Hamlin firmly believes he can make a similar move this season, starting on Saturday night at Richmond (Va.) International Speedway, a .75-mile oval that he considers his home track (he's from nearby Chesterfield, Va.) and where he has won two of the last three Cup starts. Hamlin admits that he doesn't have the raw speed in his No. 11 Toyota that he had last year -- right now the Toyotas of Joe Gibbs Racing appear to be a tick slower than the Fords of Roush Fenway Racing and the Chevys of Hendrick Motorsports -- but Hamlin is as good as anyone in the Cup series at closing out races at Richmond, a track where handling is a paramount, which means the car with the most power under the hood doesn't necessarily win.
Hamlin is my pick to take the checkers under the lights on Saturday night. His primary competition likely will come from one of his teammates, one of four other drivers I'll be closely watching when the green flag drops on Cup race No. 9 of 2011.
Over the last 10 races at Richmond, no driver has scored more points at the short track than
What makes him so good at these venues? Two things: His ability to handle a loose race car, which means he can control the car when the back wheels slide up the track as if on ice through the turns (loose equals fast, especially on short tracks); and his skill at executing bump-and-run maneuvers, which is when a driver will nudge the rear end of the car in front of him, causing him to momentarily lose control, and then make the pass. No one in the sport is better at either of these short track necessities than Busch.
The difference with Earnhardt in 2011 has been his
So far in 2011
Harvick should be a contender on Saturday night. He's finished in the top 10 at Richmond in 11 of his last 12 starts.
I spent a lot of time chatting with
"But we have the speed and the team to be a real factor this season," Stewart said. "There's always a few things you can improve on and we're not getting the finishes we should, but we are close. Really, really close."
Richmond is Stewart's favorite track on the Cup circuit. He's won there three times and finished second in four other races at Richmond. Expect at least a top-5 run for Stewart.