Martinsville missing Hamlin's dominance

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Denny Hamlin will be sidelined at least 6 weeks because of a compression fracture in his lower back.Martinsville Speedway will be missing one of its most dominant drivers this weekend, as Denny Hamlin recovers from a compression fracture suffered in a wreck at California on the final lap.

Hamlin could miss five races with the injury, and Mark Martin will be in his No. 11 machine at Martinsville.

Hamlin has been one of the most successful drivers in Cup, especially over the past couple of seasons. Since the start of 2010, no driver has more than his 14 Cup wins.

He’s also been relatively consistent. Entering this season, Hamlin has a streak of seven straight years with a Cup win.

Most Cup Wins Since 2010

There haven't been many recent examples of Cup drivers missing time due to an injury suffered on the track, but two of the most notable include Dale Earnhardt Jr. last fall due to a concussion and Sterling Marlin in 2002 with neck injuries after a wreck at Kansas.

Marlin was in the midst of a strong season, and was in realistic contention for the championship at the time.

It’s early in the season, but potentially missing five Cup starts would make it very difficult to make the Chase. In that scenario, the most realistic route would be to remain in the top 20 in points and take one of the two Wild Card positions for the most wins by a driver 11-20th in points.

Why is a top-10 position in the standings unrealistic?

In the current points system (since 2011), it’s taken an average of 795.5 points to get 10th in points after 26 races.

Hamlin has already run five races and earned 145 points. If he misses the next five, he has 16 races left to pick up 650.5 points (40.7 per race, or between a 3rd- and 4th-place finish on average).

Hamlin Most Wins by Cup Track

As for 20th, that is significantly more realistic. He needs to average about 32 points per start, or a 12th-place finish in those 16 races.

It’s an especially difficult stretch for Hamlin to miss, as three of the next five tracks on the schedule are among Hamlin’s most successful venues, as you can see in the table.

What’s more, his 4.2 average finish in spring races at Martinsville since 2007 is the best in Cup.