CONCORD, N.C. (AP) - When Denny Hamlin's engine failed at Charlotte Motor Speedway last October, it effectively ended his title chances.
A year later, he's in the thick of the championship race and engine issues can't be too far from his mind headed into Saturday night's race.
Kyle Busch, his teammate with Joe Gibbs Racing, had an engine failure last week at California that ended his title hopes. And Hamlin learned his Joe Gibbs Racing engine was on the brink of quitting after his eighth-place finish.
``That was only a 400-mile event and I know we had engine issues at Gibbs, and myself, our engine was hurt after the race,'' he said. ``We were not far from blowing up ourselves. There's always issues out there that you've got to be aware of. This race is 100 miles longer. You still have that in the back of your mind, but I think any track, it could happen at.''
Hamlin has gone from the points leader two races ago to second, 36 points behind Jimmie Johnson with Saturday night marking the halfway point of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
Even though Hamlin doesn't have the finishes to show for how well he's run at times at Charlotte, he thinks he's got a good shot of making up ground on Johnson. From there it's on to Martinsville, where Hamlin is a three-time winner. He's also got wins at Texas and Homestead, two of the final three venues in the Chase.
``We include Charlotte in it as well as a track we feel like we can win,'' Hamlin said. ``These (next three) are three really good race tracks for us, even though the statistics might not show it. I'm looking forward to it.
``After that, we have Texas, we have three race tracks that we've won at in these last six races or so. I'm pretty confident that we should be looking good here soon.''
---
LOOKING FOR A REBOUND: Dale Earnhardt Jr. had one of the lowest moments of his career last year at Charlotte, qualifying 38th and saying he was at the ``end of my rope'' about his miserable season.
He laughed when reminded of that following his eighth-place qualifying run Friday.
``It's a roller coaster every week in this sport, for teams like us, anyways,'' he said.
NASCAR's most popular driver has been living it for the better part of two years. As his struggles on the track continue, staying focused and not getting too down about his performance are now his main goals.
``Everybody in the garage has the same intentions, but not everybody has the same results,'' he said. ``So really a lot of things aren't necessarily in your control. But you just try to control what you can and try to stay focused and try to stay aggressive. Attitude is everything all weekend long.
``If I falter or struggle in practice or in the middle of the race or anyone else really on the team has a mental hiccup or lapse in focus, it can be tough on any team. I'm just trying to stay the course and keep the mind going in the right direction, trying to do what's right. It's important. It's hard, though.''
Earnhardt is 18th in the standings with six races left this season. He was 22nd at this point last year.
``Time is running out on the season,'' he said. ``I'm trying to get all the racing I can get out of these last few races, trying to be as competitive as we can be, not only just to be prepared for next year or whatever or trying to help our teammates to win the championship, but just to get everything you can out of it.''
---
NEW EXHIBITS: The NASCAR Hall of Fame will honor its newest inductees with a full slate of Saturday activities for the five-member class.
Fans will get a chance to mingle with David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Ned Jarrett, Bud Moore and relatives of Lee Petty in everything from a question-and-answer session in the Great Hall to a luncheon for Hall of Fame members.
Anyone in attendance will get a chance to see the Hall's newest exhibits, which have just been added and will be on display through January.
Among them are the Chevrolet Impala Jamie McMurray drove to victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Kyle Busch's winning truck from Bristol in August, when he swept all three national series races. The cars still have race damage and signs of celebrations, including debris, rubber, grass, soda and champagne from Victory Lane.
McMurray's car is representing owner Chip Ganassi's historic sweep this year: Ganassi cars won the Daytona 500, the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard.
``This is as real as it gets,'' said Winston Kelley, executive director for the Hall. ``Guests are feet away from cars that have marked their place in history in recent months. The NASCAR Hall of Fame not only preserves history, but also celebrates it as it happens.
``Chip's three notable wins and Kyle's sweep certainly define some of the greatest feats of 2010.''
Sports Insights' Advanced Betting Tools - NFL Free 14-Day Trial

NASCAR Odds

Driver Odds
XFinity - Odds to win the Subway Firecracker 250 @ Daytona International Speedway
Joey Logano +300
Austin Dillon +800
Kasey Kahne +800
Regan Smith +900
David Ragan +1000