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Hot/Not: Denny Hamlin’s Chase chances look remarkably good

We're hitting Chase for the Sprint Cup crunch time after Watkins Glen with now just four races left in NASCAR's regular season. Of course, nothing is ever regular about any NASCAR season — just look at Monday's last lap. We dissect what Boris Said said plus Denny Hamlin's positive Chase outlook in this week's rain-delayed Hot/Not.

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NOT: Denny Hamlin hit hard — really hard — when something failed on his car and he slammed headfirst in to the Turn 1 tire barrier at Watkins Glen on Monday. Hamlin, of course, walked away from the crushing hit with no serious injuries and will race again this weekend at Michigan.

It was a hit awfully reminiscent of the oft-replayed Jimmie Johnson crash in a 2001 Nationwide Series race at Watkins Glen, when the now-five-time Sprint Cup champion lost his brakes. Johnson walked away from the foam-cushioned blow.

They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, but I'd range to guess Hamlin wasn't particularly looking to follow in Johnson's Watkins Glen footsteps in pursuit of five titles of his own. And you can bet that Hamlin's up-and-down season didn't need that 36th-place finish that ensued.

In fact, Hamlin's standing in the Sprint Cup points ranking looks awful tedious. The Virginia driver is now 12th in points, 33 markers out of the locked-in position of 10th and 44 points from 9th. Those deficits are not certainly not insurmountable for Hamlin, especially as the Sprint Cup Series heads for some of best tracks, namely Michigan and Richmond.

But counting Hamlin out of the Chase courtesy of the Watkins Glen incident is a far, far stretch. For Hamlin to be eliminated after Richmond, a couple of factors need to hit in the next four races, including:

1) Hamlin must perform terribly at some of his best tracks. Since 2009, Hamlin has four wins at Richmond and Michigan — two of the four tracks remaining. With a 40-percent batting average at those tracks during roughly the last two and half seasons, Hamlin is looking good to score another win. Should he get even one, he's all but locked in at a wild card spot.

2) Paul Menard must win once, or seven other drivers must (virtually) win twice. Just one driver beside Hamlin in the top 20 (a requirement for the wild card spot) has a win this season, and that guy is Paul Menard. Do you really see him winning another race in the next four? I don't. Do you see him gaining 28 points on Hamlin in the next four races? Slightly more possible, but I still don't see it.

Otherwise, A.J. Allmendinger, Joey Logano, Mark Martin, Kasey Kahne, Juan Pablo Montoya and Martin Truex Jr. must get two wins to have any real shot at beating Hamlin down the stretch. That's not happening.

Two drivers Hamlin needs to look out for? Clint Bowyer and Greg Biffle.

Bowyer has moved ahead of Hamlin in the standings. If it stays that way and Bowyer gets a win — he has won at Richmond — he would be in and Hamlin out.

The Biff is winless in 2011, but a win levels the playing field with Hamlin in the 'W' category. Biffle stands just 16 points behind Hamlin in 13th.

Hamlin may look down-and-out after the Watkins Glen crash, but his win earlier this year at Michigan plus his high standing in the wild card category makes him more of a lock than three guys ahead of him in the standings — Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart and Clint Bowyer.

HOT: Jeff Burton's 2011 nightmare is over — sort of. Burton, ninth Monday at Watkins Glen, scored his first top 10 of the season. It's not a win for Burton, but you can bet the team was growing tired of that distinction, 22 races in. {ysp:more}

NOT: Those angled guardrail barriers David Ragan and David Reutimann hit on the final lap are inexcusable in big-time auto racing. The barriers did exactly what anyone would expect and launched a race car back in to traffic after sustaining a vicious hit.

That said, simply putting up SAFER barriers (as many have clamored for) isn't the most correct or even needed solution. Had those walls not been angled toward the track, David Reutimann never wrecks. Plus, the current barriers are more like SAFER barriers anyway, in that they have substantial more flex than a concrete wall.

HOT: Boris Said's post-race interview may be the best this sport has seen in five years. It's most definitely the best use of the term "scaredy-cat" ever in NASCAR. And, wow, using a national TV interview to find Greg Biffle's address? I'm going to bet the Biff may look out his window once or twice this week — just in case.

NOT: Drivers complaining about Boris Said's aggressive tactics on a road course are generally right. However, criticizing his last-lap move Sunday is completely wrong. Sure, it caused a big wreck and sure, it was for 22nd. But race car drivers are race car drivers, and that is no more prevalent than on the final lap of a race. The whining can stop now. Boris did nothing wrong.

HOT: NASCAR played the rain cards well this weekend, first by making an exhaustive attempt at racing Sunday (very appeasing to fans) and then by scheduling Monday's postponed start early in the morning at 10 a.m./ET. The rain came again not long after Monday's race — but not before a full race (and then some) was finished.

It was a welcome change from previously starting postponed races at noon the next day. That happened at Charlotte in 2009, and the race went nowhere near the full distance because more rain crept in.

NEUTRAL: At this pace, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (15th at Watkins Glen) and Tony Stewart (27th) are walking the Chase plank as the final two drivers qualified in the non-wild card spots. With four races left, I really can't say either is a lock to get in — and no one behind them is making a particular charge to knock them out.

NOT: I feel bad for A.J. Allmendinger. After taking the lead early from an outside pole starting position, Watkins Glen looked like it could be Allmendinger's day. Then he got a nice punt from the lapped Kurt Busch that required a visit to pit road under green. Busch, for the record, had brake issues the whole race and apologized. Allmendinger battled back to eighth while his teammate Marcos Ambrose won.

NOT: NASCAR president Mike Helton was insistent before Monday's race that a road course has no place in the Chase. Not only is that a bad call in terms of testing driver ability, but it's a bad call because NASCAR desperately needs more of these left-and-right events. Bring 'em on.

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