It feels like I'm edging toward jinx territory here, like wandering into a NASCAR garage eating a bag of peanuts, but we haven't heard very much about one of the key questions about Denny Hamlin's team coming into the Chase: what about the tendency of Hamlin's engines to, you know, blow up?
Engine failure killed the 11 team's hopes last year in the Chase. Even though Hamlin won at both Martinsville and Talladega, he was never in the mix thanks to engine failures at Charlotte and Talladega. And this year, Hamlin had engine trouble after getting the pole in the Atlanta fall race, just two races before the Chase began.
"Reliability," Hamlin said just before the Atlanta race. "It’s taken us out of the last three Chases, not being reliable. You have to have it to be the champion."
In Atlanta, Hamlin's engine blew 143 laps in, the second consecutive race in which something on his car malfunctioned. Engineers tried to pinpoint the source of the problem but had difficulty doing so because of the engine's ruined condition.
"It’s frustrating," Hamlin said at the time. "I know if we had the reliability that we could win this championship and the odds would be pretty good to win the championship if I can just keep it together for 10 weeks."
He's 80 percent of the way there. A failure at this point would be catastrophic. Is it lying in wait? Everyone on the 11 team has to have that question in the back of their minds in these last two races.