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While Carl Edwards basks in victory, the big question now is can Denny Hamlin shake this one off?

   Mike Ford, Denny Hamlin's crew chief: great cars these last few weeks...but now he's got to rejuvenate his driver (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern



   Denny Hamlin, for a guy on the cusp of his first championship, looks pretty down.
   Yes, he could have won Sunday's 500K easily, if the cautions had played out differently. He had clearly the best car.
   And he came in here off a solid win at Texas.

   And he was watching title rivals Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick struggle here most of the day.
   But then his world boiled down to how much gas was in the tank. And he had to make an extra stop. So instead of winning, he wound up 12th.
   Not bad, certainly, and he's still got the points lead.
   But Hamlin was still quite depressed. Wouldn't even talk or acknowledge Johnson when the two crossed paths moments after the race.
    "We had a good run...Just bad strategy at the end...Let those guys right back in there," Hamlin said quietly.
    "I'll be all right.  I'll be okay.
      "(But) I felt like we've been the best car over this chase and we might not win it.
     "We were short on fuel so we had to stop.
      "For me I guess as soon as I leave Phoenix, I have to leave Phoenix in Phoenix.  That's the thing -- you can't let this.....
    "I couldn't control it.  I did everything I was supposed to do.  Things just didn't work out for me.
    "All I can do is concentrate on next week....and put it behind me.
     "It could have been a lot worse.  We could have lost the points lead."
   But this one clearly hurt.
    "If you run terrible all day and finish 12th, you've salvaged something out of it," Hamlin said. "But knowing we had a very, very good points lead with 15 or 20 to go, that quickly diminishes.
    "It hurts.
    "I wasn't aware anyone was going to try to stretch it.  Mike didn't make me aware that anyone was going to stretch it. So I went out there and ran as hard as I could.
     "Unfortunately our car didn't have as good fuel mileage as everyone else's."
    And now Homestead becomes a toss-up.
    "You never know what can happen in the final race," Hamlin said.  "I hate it boils down to the final race, but that's what's fans love."
    And Hamlin then tried to force himself to put a positive spin on things: "Trust me, I'd rather race next week knowing I need to win the race than knowing I need to finish (only) 15th. 
     "That's the mentality I'm going to have next week -- to win the race. 
      "Full-court press.
       "You'll probably see me as aggressive as I've been all year."
       Through the first half of the 10-race chase Hamlin was clearly on the defensive, noticeably conservative.
   But since then he's really turned it on.
    "I press the gas down harder," Hamlin said. "I told y'all I was going to step it up, and I'm doing what I said I was going to do."


     A gas mileage finish, and here's ol 'Golden Foot' at the finish line (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


gas mileage

Although Denny says that running out of gas wasn't his fault, since his teammate Legano made it without stopping, Denny probably forgot to push in the choke knob after he started his engine. (Unfortunately, there probably aren't many readers old enough to get that joke.)

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