On Sunday at Loudon, Denny Hamlin's title chances went dry the same way they did in 2010 at Phoenix: Fuel mileage.
After struggling at Chicagoland last weekend, Hamlin was in position to swipe a top 10 at Loudon. The team thought the car was good to make it to the end on fuel.
Hamlin ran out with three laps to go.
But last year, Phoenix was the ninth race of the Chase. Loudon is the second. That's just the way that things have been for the No. 11 team this season.
At Phoenix, Hamlin had to pit for fuel with 14 laps to go, giving up the lead. Jimmie Johnson did not. Hamlin's chance at a win and a knockout punch was gone. Leaving Phoenix, he still had a 15-point lead over Johnson, but you could see in his face after that race that the mojo was gone.
The look on his face after Loudon said it all too, but it was a different look than at Phoenix. This was a look of acceptance. A man resigned to know that it wasn't his year. Hamlin now trails leader Tony Stewart by 64 points, a deficit that doesn't eliminate him mathematically by any means. But that's a race and a half's worth of points and 11 drivers to pass. It's not happening.
Last year, Hamlin had eight wins. This year, he has just one, and not a whole lot of other strong finishes that could have been wins. Yeah, the Joe Gibbs Racing engine issues haven't helped, but it's foolish to blame Hamlin's struggles solely on that. Kyle Busch has four wins.
You could say that Hamlin now has nothing to lose and can go for it. However, given that he was the last car in the Chase, he really didn't have anywhere to go but up to begin with, and after two races, he still doesn't.