The Chase for the Championship is showing how overrated momentum is.
Three of the hottest drivers entering the Chase were Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne and Brian Vickers.
Halfway through the 10-race playoff, they are ninth (Kahne), 11th (Hamlin) and 12th (Vickers) and have almost no shot at winning the title.
Kahne and Vickers, you can almost understand.
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Kahne had highs and lows throughout the season and has not been consistent enough to win a title. Vickers was happy to make his first Chase appearance.
Hamlin is another story.
"For me this year I'm going to look back on it, and obviously be very disappointed," he said during the week. "We came into the Chase with so much momentum and have performed extremely well on the racetrack. If they gave points for us running up front for most of the time we'd maybe have a shot at this championship. But, unfortunately, they don't. It's only on finishing position. That's bitten us right at the very end."
It's not so much where Hamlin has finished in the past two Chase races that has dashed his hopes, it's that he has not finished.
Two weeks ago at California he was leading the race on a restart when he came down across Juan Pablo Montoya and started an accident. Hamlin, who took responsibility for the wreck, went from a contender to 37th. He also dropped to ninth in the standings.
If that were not enough, a broken part relegated him to a 42nd-place showing last weekend at Charlotte. He is 372 points out of the lead. After one Chase race, that deficit was 35 points.
Because things can change quickly under the Chase format, Hamlin wishes NASCAR could find a way to tweak the system, and reward drivers for running consistently all season.
"Maybe we're not spread out enough," he said. "After the season ends and the Chase begins, we are only separated by 10 points, 20 points, when someone like Tony (Stewart) has accumulated a 200-point lead or what have you. That was my only thing."
Hamlin knows changes in the format are not likely to happen. His focus is finishing strong and trying to make a run for his first title in 2010.
While he's not happy where he is in the points, he has five races to make up ground starting with Sunday's Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville, Va. Hamlin has a win and seven top-10 finishes in his eight starts at the track.
"My goal was as soon as California happened, I said 'Let's win one more race, at least one more race before the end of the season,'" he said.
"That would get us more wins than we have had in any year at three. We're going to run well. We're going to contend for every race win from here on out, I'm absolutely sure of that. But we need to finish them off, get those wins and try to get as high in the points as we can."