Hamlin's struggling to make the Chase

Denny Hamlin sits in the #11 FedEx Freight Toyota before the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan...

Denny Hamlin sits in the #11 FedEx Freight Toyota before the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400. (AFP)

DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:26 PM ET

TORONTO - Last season at this time, Denny Hamlin was making a charge that looked destined to derail Jimmie Johnson’s historic run to a fifth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.

Right up to the final two races in the Chase for the Championship, Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota squad appeared unstoppable.

Johnson, however, bounced back to beat Hamlin at Phoenix and Homestead, but the feeling persisted that the No. 11

team would be the one to beat in 2011.

But now with just three races reamining until the Chase starts at Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 18,

Hamlin is in the fight of his life just to make it as one of the 12 finalists.

Under NASCAR’s revised Chase rules, the top 10 drivers after 26 races get automatic berths. The next two “wild cards” are determined by a combination of points and wins.

If the season were to end right now, Greg Biffle would be in by the thinnest of margins.

Currently sitting in 14th place, Hamlin is 59 points out of 10th place, but by virtue of his win in June at Michigan International Speedway, he holds on to the final wild card spot.

However, ahead of him in points are both Biffle and Clint Bowyer. If Biffle or Bowyer win any of the next three races, the last wild card spot goes to one of them.

Brad Keselowski, currently in 12th with a pair of victories, is a virtual lock to make the Chase.

Hamlin admits that it hasn’t been the season he had hoped for when its all started back in February at Daytona.

He said that the confidence that got him so close to the prize in 2010 is just not there this season.

“At this point last year, we had a lot of confidence,” Hamlin said.

Unfortunately for Hamlin, it appears that the mojo he had, has now moved over to his Gibbs’ teammate Kyle Busch and the No. 18 Toyota.

“Last year, the cars were really easy to drive for me,” he said. “(Busch) has taken what we’ve learned over the last year and applied it and are running better than anyone right now.

“We’ve got to figure out how we can adapt these race cars to me to be a little bit better for this season and it’s going to take a lot of hard work to do that.”

In Hamlin’s favour is the fact that at his record at three remaining tracks leading up to the Chase is terrific.

He has a pair of wins the past three seasons at Richmond, two top-5 finishes at Bristol and a pair of top 10s at Atlanta.

“There’s a lot of good race tracks for us,” Hamlin said. “(But) we have to get this ship up and pointing back in the right direction and it’s going to take a lot of hard work to do it.”

The problem, of course, is that even if he repeats his past efforts on the final trio of races, he still has to hope the guys in front of him stumble. It is certain that Hamlin would rather get into the Chase on his own merits, but it doesn’t look promising at this stage of the game.

Hamlin points out, correctly, that the Sprint Cup series is at its most competitive level in history, with such a tiny margin between victory and abject failure.

“That’s part of the sport,” he said. “How many Super Bowl (finalists) don’t make the playoffs the next year? It’s just so hard because any time you’re on top — and in our sport there’s 42 guys that are hungry to beat you.”

Finish lines

Admittedly not enough attention has been accorded here to the Canadian Superbike Championship that was featured at Mosport International Raceway this past weekend. In the final race, Brett McCormick lost his bid for a perfect season when Jordon Szoke won on a wet road course. But McCormick had already clinched the season championship a day earlier by winning on his radX / BMW Motorrad Canada BMW S1000RR ... Who says money and fame can’t buy happiness? Don’t tell that to actor Tom Cruise who got a taste of driving a Formula One car in a secret test that took place with Red Bull in California last week.

Cookies on the menu for Tags

Alex Tagliani has done a lot of things to further his vocation as a race car driver but none can match his latest venture: Cookie maker.

Tagliani, who is coming off a thrilling second-place finish to Marcos Ambrose in the NASCAR Nationwide Series NAPA 200 at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, is lending his name and likeness to a peanut-free snack that he hopes will be a healthy alternative to fast foods for both children and adults in Canada.

Dubbed “Tag On The Go” the chocolate and oatmeal cookies will be manufactured in Quebec and sold across they country.

“When I got the deal to race the No. 12 Penske Dodge in the Nationwide Series at Montreal, I was getting a lot of attention,” he said. “And I was approached by this company to promote their cookies.

“I told them I would do it with one important condition: I have a peanut allergy since I was a child so I wanted the cookies to be completely nut free.”

Tagliani said he also wanted the cookies to taste good so he was part of a group that tested various recipes before he agreed to put his name on it.

Thus was born “Tag On The Go” cookies.

“What we have is snack that tastes good and is healthy,” Tagliani said. “The cookies are also made in a 100% nut-free bakery.”

Next up on the race track for Tagliani is a return to the IZOD IndyCar series on Sunday when he will pilot the No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins Sam Schmidt Motorsports Dallara at the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma at California’s Infineon Raceway.

Decision day for Danica

If all of the “sources” inside NASCAR are right we should know on Wednesday if Danica Patrick will indeed be driving stock cars full time next season for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s JR Motorsports team in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

This past weekend in Montreal at the NAPA 200, Patrick was insistent that she had no deal to announce.

Patrick did admit, however, that driving the big sedans was a lot of fun, more fun than the IZOD IndyCar Series.

While many in IndyCar say they will be happy to see her gone and that her talent is less than her reputation, no less an authority than Ron Fellows says she is the real deal.

“The girl can drive a race car,” Fellows said at Montreal this week.

Rant

The situation that Stock-Car Montreal and the Octane Group find themselves in this week reeks of bureaucratic short-sightedness.

In the wake of a hugely successful NASCAR Nationwide Series NAPA 200 at Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Octane and SCM are still waiting for Quebec’s ministry of tourism to decide whether to continue a $500,000 deal to promote the province at the track.

If approved that deal comes with a matching $500,000 from the federal government. If it is not approved the two groups — who act as the race promoters — are threatening to cancel the race next season.

Let’s do the math. Out of the approximately 60,000 fans who attend the three-day event, a conservative guess is that one-third of them are from out of province and require hotel rooms and meals, plus gasoline and or alternative transportation.

Past studies have shown that the total amount spent in Montreal in like situations amounts to about $1,500 per person resulting in a whopping $30-million injection into that city’s economy.

So that is a $500,000 investment and a $30 million return. Not even Bernie Madoff on his best could promise that kind of return.

Betting is the deal will get done to bring back the race.


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