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Hamlin suffers major championship blow

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LOUDON, N.H. (AP) — Denny Hamlin folded his arms in the New Hampshire garage, stared at the big screen and watched teammate Kyle Busch hit the wall.

It just seemed like one bad continuous replay for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Hamlin's battered No. 11 was able to limp back on the track.

His championship hopes might not survive.

Hamlin's Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship bid took a major tumble Sunday when a slew of problems hit his car, from fuel issues that left him fuming on pit road to a multicar wreck that knocked him out of the race.

"You know on performance, you deserve to move on," Hamlin said. "We would have a great shot to move on and really make some noise here in these last eight races. In this three-race section, you can't have one bad week. Not right now. You've got to be flawless. You've got to be at your best the last 10."

Hamlin dropped from a tie for sixth in the standings to 13th and is among the final four drivers who could be eliminated from the Chase after next week's race at Dover. NASCAR this year switched to an elimination format and four drivers will be knocked out after every third race.

With a season-high 15 cautions, the green flag caused havoc a chunk of the Chase field.

"I hate to say it, but maybe some guys get some trouble and let us back in it," Hamlin said during the race. "Other than that, it's going to be hard for us to do it without some help."

JGR drivers Hamlin, Busch and Matt Kenseth were among a slew of Chase drivers who couldn't escape the carnage on the track. Kurt Busch's No. 41 blew a right front tire and spiraled into the wall. Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffered from a loose wheel. Kasey Kahne's crew pounded down damage on the No. 5 on a pit stop. Kenseth spun and hit the wall late in the race. Jeff Gordon brought out a caution with nine laps left when the right front went down.

Kurt Busch finished 36th and Hamlin 37th, the worst finishes among the Chase drivers in the race won by Joey Logano.

Kenseth, Gordon and Kahne also finished outside the top 20.

"We went from being very comfortable going into next week's race to now not being very comfortable," Gordon said. "We just have to go and perform and try to make sure things like this don't happen."

Hamlin, Greg Biffle, Busch and Aric Almirola are in the bottom four of the 16-driver field at and risk of getting cut next Sunday at Dover.

With a sixth-place finish at New Hampshire, Almirola is only 10 points out of 12th and a spot in the next round.

"If we went to Dover 28 points out, we might as well go ahead and just throw in the towel," he said. "But that's exactly what we needed. We've got to try and put pressure on those other guys."

Hamlin led 32 laps early in the race and was second when he pitted under green 95 laps into the race. Hamlin sat ... and sat ... and sat. Crew chief Darian Grubb ordered Hamlin to quiet down when the driver popped off over the radio.

"Keep your mouth shut until we get it fixed," Grubb said.

The No. 11 Toyota had a faulty fuel probe — the device that gets fuel into the car — forcing Hamlin's day to run out of steam.

"We couldn't get fuel in it from the get-go," Hamlin said. "Don't know where that's coming from, what that's all about. You just can't have any mistakes in this three-race Chase deal. We went from looking pretty and probably going to coast our way to the next round to a long shot at best."

He was later collected in a wreck that forced him to the garage.

Hamlin will practically have to win next week at Dover, where he is winless in 17 career races with an average of 19.6, to advance to next round. Oh, and he'd have to conquer nine-time Dover winner Jimmie Johnson at his favorite track.

"It's frustrating," Hamlin said, "but what can you do about it?"

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