Should provisions be made for injured drivers in regards to competing for a championship? That’s a question that’s been asked several times since Denny Hamlin’s announcement of a spinal injury following a wreck at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., about two-and-a-half weeks ago. Hamlin missed Sunday’s race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and is expected to be out of commission for at least a few more races. So is NASCAR’s current championship points system at the Sprint Cup level, including the Chase for the Sprint Cup format fair when it comes to injury? I think so.
Of course, it’s much less detrimental to get injured during the first 26 races of the season than in the 10-race Chase. After all, the Chase is the post season, and if you miss a single race then, a shot at the Cup almost certainly goes out the window. Dale Earnhardt Jr.’ concussion of 2012 is pretty much a prime example of that.
But what about during the 26-race regular season? Hamlin’s going to wind up missing several races because of his injury, but they’ll all fall during the so-called regular season. Sure, it’s pretty much certain that he’ll be outside the top-10 in points come the fall race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway (the last race of the regular season), but that doesn’t mean he won’t be one of the 12 drivers competing for the championship come the postseason.
Who’s to say that Hamlin won’t pull off an impressive string of wins upon his return? And as long as he’s still in the top-20, that could be good enough to get him into the Chase. Remember, positions 11 and 12 to start the Chase go to the two drivers between 11th and 20th in points with the most race wins after Richmond. Hamlin may still have a shot at that, should he get himself into the top-20 by the checkered flag this fall. Of course, a lot of that will also hinge on exactly how many weeks Hamlin will be out of the car. The more races he misses, the harder it’ll be to remain in or get back into the top-20 by the end of race 26.
Mark Martin may have been behind the wheel of Hamlin’s No. 11 this past weekend at Martinsville, and Brian Vickers may be assuming driving duties in Hamlin’s ride this weekend at Texas and remain in the seat for several weeks. But that doesn’t mean that Hamlin won’t be returning with championship hopes, whenever he is able to make a return.
Granted, it’ll be an uphill climb, even with several wins. After all, it’s all for naught if Hamlin’s not in the top-20 after Richmond, but it’s not an impossiblity. Like the saying goes, “Down but not out.” His chances, or lack thereof, will become a lot more clearer when he comes back, or at least as a date etched in stone on which he’s guaranteed to be able to return.
Hamlin is targeting the April 27 spring race at Richmond, sooner than doctors’ predicted five races out. But according to a report from ESPN, the No. 11 team has done the math and a Chase berth after missing five races may be a long shot but not impossible.
So, back to my original question of whether or not there should be a change in the system to give drivers a shot at the title after returning from an injury. I think there’s already sufficient opportunity there.
Let us know what you think about Hamlin’s chances by answering our Denny Hamline poll question here.
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