NASCAR Barometer: Hamlin Overcomes Injury to Advance

NASCAR Barometer: Hamlin Overcomes Injury to Advance

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Denny Hamlin overcame his torn ACL and an early spin to score the fist victory in the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship and secure the first pass into the Contender Round of eliminations. Any doubts regarding how Hamlin's recent injury would affect his on-track performance should have been quieted after his sixth-place effort at Richmond two weeks ago, but must now certainly be retired. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver not only showed no ill effects from his knee, but he also successfully overcame an early scare that saw him spin from contention to take the victory.

Gibbs put three of their drivers into the top 5 at Chicagoland Speedway, and and their momentum continues in the series. Despite finishing ninth, teammate Kyle Busch led the most laps in the race, making all of the team's Chase contenders seem like serious title threats for 2015. The competition only gets hotter next week at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, as those less fortunate Chase competitors scramble to gain ground lost in Chicago.

UPGRADE

Denny Hamlin – An early spin put Hamlin deep in the field and well behind the leaders. From there, he had to salvage whatever possible to avoid falling too far behind in the first race of the Chase. Ultimately, he worked his way to the front and took the lead on the final restart of the race. Hamlin's knee injury isn't slowing him down, and his's securely in the second round of eliminations for this year's championship

Denny Hamlin overcame his torn ACL and an early spin to score the fist victory in the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship and secure the first pass into the Contender Round of eliminations. Any doubts regarding how Hamlin's recent injury would affect his on-track performance should have been quieted after his sixth-place effort at Richmond two weeks ago, but must now certainly be retired. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver not only showed no ill effects from his knee, but he also successfully overcame an early scare that saw him spin from contention to take the victory.

Gibbs put three of their drivers into the top 5 at Chicagoland Speedway, and and their momentum continues in the series. Despite finishing ninth, teammate Kyle Busch led the most laps in the race, making all of the team's Chase contenders seem like serious title threats for 2015. The competition only gets hotter next week at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, as those less fortunate Chase competitors scramble to gain ground lost in Chicago.

UPGRADE

Denny Hamlin – An early spin put Hamlin deep in the field and well behind the leaders. From there, he had to salvage whatever possible to avoid falling too far behind in the first race of the Chase. Ultimately, he worked his way to the front and took the lead on the final restart of the race. Hamlin's knee injury isn't slowing him down, and his's securely in the second round of eliminations for this year's championship battle. Next week's race in New Hampshire has little importance to the Gibbs driver now, but he's a two-time winner at the track. His average New Hampshire finish is 10.7, which could make him a top fantasy option.

Kyle Busch – Busch leapt out to an early lead in Sunday's race at Chicagoland. Thanks to his team nailing the early setup, which gave him an advantage in the early miles, he lead more than half of the first 100 laps. By the race's finish, he had led the most laps and secured a top-10 finish for his fight to move to the next round of the Chase. Chicagoland was Busch's race to win, but circumstances put him behind the competition in the closing laps. His effort will help him in the standings, though. Busch won at Loudon earlier this season, and is likely to be one of the early favorites for the next race.

Ryan Newman – Despite not having the marquee finishes of other competitors in this year's Chase, Newman's results improved as the Chase approached. The Richard Childress Racing driver started off his Chase effort on fantastic footing by scoring a fourth-place finish last week, his fifth of the season. Newman now has three top-10 finishes in his last five efforts and looks likely to advance to the next round of the Chase with two races remaining. The No. 31 finished 11th in New Hampshire earlier this season, and another result like that would be a nice effort to propel him into the next round of eliminations. He's also a three-time winner at the northeastern oval.

Kurt Busch – Busch was the quiet Stewart-Haas Racing driver heading into last week's first elimination round of the Chase, and he used that lack of pressure to pull off an impressive third-place finish at a track at which he hasn't had the best history. That finish puts him in an enviable position in the standings compared with teammate Kevin Harvick, but there is still work to be done. Busch has three New Hampshire wins, which could play into his favor again next week. His last win at the track was in 2008, though. At the moment things look good for Busch, and the 10th-place finish he scored at New Hampshire earlier this season might help brighten the picture this week.

Kyle Larson – Last week Larson proved his 2014 third-place finish at Chicagoland was no fluke. He raced to a respectable seventh-place finish, which was his eighth top-10 of the season. The 1.5-mile ovals are where this driver performs strongly. From a fantasy perspective he has gotten better as the year has progressed, and his sophomore slump appears to have faded. As the remaining 1.5-mile ovals pop up on the schedule, owners should consider the No. 42, just as they did last season. New Hampshire might be a good time to choose the second-year driver, too. He scored top-5s in both visits in 2014 before recording a 31st-place finish there earlier this season.

DOWNGRADE

Kevin Harvick – Contact with Jimmie Johnson flattened Harvick's rear tire, which ended up putting the No. 4 car into the wall and well behind the competition. The damage forced the car into the garage and put Harvick into a deep hole in the first race of Chase's elimination rounds. The team moved quickly to make repairs, but wasn't able to make up much ground. A lack of attrition meant that Harvick finished 42nd. He has a mountain to climb in order to advance in the Chase, and likely has to win one of the next two stops on the calendar in order to do so. He finished third in the last two races at New Hampshire, though, so the feat isn't too far-fetched.

Jeff Gordon – Despite having the lead heading into last week's final restart, Gordon was unable to capitalize and score the win. His decision to stay out on old tires for the final 10 laps proved to be a bad one, as he was swallowed at the green and then dropped to 14th place by the time the race finished. Gordon was in prime position to reverse his poor 2015 luck, but again the chips didn't fall in his direction. He now sits on the bubble in the first round of Chase eliminations and needs a better performance in New Hampshire to feel more secure. He is a three-time New Hampshire winner, though. His 41 starts at the track have given him an average finish of 11.3.

Austin Dillon – All of the speed that Dillon showed throughout last weekend went to waste when he blew a right-front tire midway through Sunday's race. The flat tire put him in the wall and damaged his chances to finish well that afternoon. He finished last in the race, which epitomized 2015 season. Speed and effort haven't meant much for Dillon, who hasn't had the luck to go along with everything else. He did score a top-10 finish at New Hampshire earlier this season, so a quick recovery might not be out of the cards for the No. 3. Dillon has improved toward the end of 2015, but could use some good luck to come his way before the winter break.

Clint Bowyer – Bowyer wasn't able to find the speed necessary to contend last week and tallied a 19th-place finish in the first race of his final Chase run with Michael Waltrip Racing. The driver has typically been strong at the Midwestern track, however. His 19th-place finish leaves him 15th in the Chase standings, at the brink of elimination, with two races remaining to turn things around. However, he has won twice at New Hampshire. He'll need a better finish there than earlier this season when he finished 34th.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Aric Almirola – The under-valued Richard Petty Motorsports driver scored another top-10 finish last week in Chicago. Almirola had just scored his second top-5 finish of the season two weeks ago at Richmond International Raceway, and then backed that up with his third top-10 in 2015 last week. This team made it into the Chase in 2014 but was unable to repeat that feat again in 2015. Almirola is becoming a much more reliable fantasy option, and owners should pay attention, when things are going his way. The No. 43 car had sixth- and 15th-place finishes at New Hampshire in his last two visits. Results like that are strong showings for a third or fourth driver on most rosters.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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