2012 season in the rear view: Denny Hamlin

Vitals: Sixth in the points standings; five wins, 14 top fives, 17 top 10s, four DNFs.

Moment to remember: Denny Hamlin entered the Chase as the top seed thanks to his four pre-Chase wins and got his fifth win in the second race of the Chase in dominating fashion.

At New Hampshire, Hamlin struggled in qualifying, starting 32nd, but quickly, and we mean quickly, drove his way to the front. And when he lost the lead on pit strategy? Well, he just quickly got back up to the front again.

He led a total of 193 of the race's 300 laps, including the race's final 52.

Moment to forget: Hamlin's best track in the Sprint Cup Series has been Martinsville, so it was expected by many that he'd make a move at the paperclip to keep himself in Chase contention. That move in the standings happened. However, it was one that knocked Hamlin out of the title hunt.

Hamlin had already had two speeding penalties, but because he's so good at Martinsville, he looked like he was going to be able to overcome them and still get a good finish. However, the master switch on his car -- a part that costs a pittance compared to others -- failed, and Hamlin's car slowed on track.

He finished 33rd, and left the track with a 49 point deficit to Jimmie Johnson. Hamlin's Chase was over.

The wrap: While Martinsville was the death knell to Hamlin's championship hopes, they took a significant body blow at Chicago that the New Hampshire win couldn't overcome. At Chicago, Hamlin ran out of gas near the checkered flag and coasted to a 16th place finish, ending up 10th of 12 Chasers.

While starting the Chase in first and finishing sixth isn't necessarily a success, there's a lot of reasons to expect that a serious championship bid is in the works for Hamlin and crew chief Darian Grubb. They both know what it's like to be in the thick of a championship hunt and they proved that they can get to that championship hunt together. Now it's just time to do it in the Chase.

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