Denny Hamlin knew he had enough points for one mulligan in the Round of 8. He entered the third round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs +32 on the bubble. But, Hamlin was likely hoping that if he needed to use it, that it was going to come next week in Texas.
Hamlin, won the spring race on the 1.5-mile track last year, but was only 28th and 20th in the last two Cup races at Texas. Four of his last five finishes there have been 20th or worse. So, to have lost 12 points on Sunday at the Kansas Speedway, well it was frustrating for him.
Especially when his No. 11 Toyota had the speed to win and he had won the last tow races in the Sunflower State as well.
Hamlin, led the second most laps all day (58). He won the second stage. But, he got too high while battling for position during the final stage on Lap 180 and got into the Turn 4 SAFER barrier. He had to pit for right side damage as a result and would lost a couple of laps. He fell back to 28th after pitting for repairs.
Luckily for them, they didn’t panic. They knew more cautions would fly which would give them plenty of time to make up the lost ground. He took the wave around on Lap 199 and got back on the lead lap on Lap 220 caution for Tyler Reddick.
That allowed him to still finish 15th.
“Obviously, we damaged the car and at these tracks, you can’t have any damage on the car,” Hamlin said following his fifth finish of 12 or worse in seven playoff races. “I was fortunate to get a couple cautions there to get us back on the lead lap. That was as far as I could go with the damage that I had. It just hurt the FedEx Camry so bad. To finish 15th with that damage, that was the best we could possibly hope for.
“Still definitely had a race-winning car today. Just threw it in the fence.”
Hamlin, now sits +20 going to Texas next weekend. It’s weird that he’s only had two top 10’s all playoffs. But, you also have to look at the circumstances too. Hamlin, has had speed more times than not.
He was running third in the playoff opener at Darlington before getting run in the back of by Jimmie Johnson on his final stop for the Southern 500. He’d finish 13th. A week later in Richmond, he won a stage and had top five pace again but was speeding on pit road. He finished 12th. They didn’t have much in a 21st place result at Bristol.
The Round of 12 was much better. He was third in Vegas and won in Talladega. Hamlin, finished 15th on the ROVAL and now 15th after having a top two or three car again in Kansas.
“We can win every week,” Hamlin continued. “Every week, we’re up front. I think we can win next week. We can win the week after that and we can win the week after that. Not too worried about having to go out there and win because I know we can do it.”