Denny Hamlin is still winless in 2021. But, it’s not like he’s been off. In fact, despite there being seven drivers to have won a race this year, I can make a strong case that Hamlin is the overall favorite to win this year’s championship.
He drove his No. 11 Toyota to a third place finish in Monday’s rain delayed NASCAR Cup Series race at the Bristol (Tenn) Motor Speedway. What’s impressive is, this was Hamlin’s sixth top five result in seven races run this season. His worst finish is 11th at Homestead.
But, he’s still frustrated. He felt like he had a chance to win Monday’s Food City Dirt Race in Bristol. He made a great move on the restart to start the final stage off with in going to the outside in Turn 1. See, Hamlin knew they had just prepped the track again during the stage break and with more moisture on the high lanes again, he would try it out.
It paid off.
Hamlin went from third to second by the exit of Turn 2 and would use the higher line to get to Joey Logan’s bumper. The thing is, he had to make quick move of it. The high lane wouldn’t work for too much longer and Logano’s car was better as the laps went on.
Logano, stuffed every Hamlin move which forced Hamlin to settle into second place. He blamed himself in the end for not pushing the issue a little more.
“I mean, he’s doing what he has to do to protect the lead. I’m trying to get it from him. I just wasn’t aggressive enough,” Hamlin said. “I should have shoved him out. When I had position on the bottom, I should have just moved up and got him in the dust, and got rid of him. I just wanted to pass him clean. I didn’t, so I didn’t win.”
Hamlin, got another shot though. A caution came out with four laps remaining to bunch the field back up. This time though, it was a single file restart.
See, NASCAR made a chance in the second stage from all the dust to go from double file restarts to single file the rest of the way. So, on the ensuing restart in overtime, Hamlin tried to make the outside work again. This time, it didn’t.
He lost a spot and would finish third.
Even if they had a double file restart, that it’s tough to say if being on the same row as him would have worked.
“I mean, it’s tough to say,” he said. “If I’m beside ’em, I’m in a better spot than if I’m behind ’em on a green-white-checkered. I had an opportunity to choose whether I was going to make a move on the high side or the low side. I chose high, and the track was just too slick up there at the time.
“Certainly he didn’t get a very good restart. I was on him entering turn one. That tells me if I can start beside him, then I had an opportunity there to be ahead of him getting in one.
“It is what it is. We all had to adapt. We knew after halfway or so when they changed it that was going to be the rule for the rest of the race. Those are the cards we’re dealt.”