There was nothing Denny Hamlin could do about his No. 11 Toyota during Sunday’s Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 from the Martinsville (VA) Speedway. He had what he had. That’s why despite leading a race-high 276 of 500 laps on Sunday afternoon, he couldn’t hold off his teammate Martin Truex Jr. in the end to win.
Hamlin’s car was great on short run speed, but he didn’t have enough pace over a long green flag run. Without a caution in the final laps, Hamlin had nothing for Truex. That’s why he would finish third despite leading 246 more laps than the race winner.
Hamlin said that there wasn’t much they could do during the race to make his car better saying, “I had what I had.” The only thing that he could during the race since he had such a good short run car was that he would run as hard as he could for the time that it was good.
“If I could build a gap over the guy that was behind me, it would just take him longer to get to me,” Hamlin continued. “Instead of me trying to ride and save my stuff, all I did was let those guys, when my car started fading, they were right on me instead of half a straightaway back. Those are the cards we were dealt.
“The reason we even took the lead on that final restart is because we were good on the short runs. We made sure we preserved what strong suit we did have, which was the first 20 laps.
“I thought it was a matter of time,” Hamlin said of Truex catching him in the end. “With about 25 to go or so, he already got into my rear bumper, kind of beating the back end off. It was just a matter of time.
“The only hope, we had an extra set of tires over everyone. Hell, we would have pitted, taken tires, restarted 20th. That wasn’t going to work either.
“Tough to say. We weren’t stuck in a box where we could make good in a long run. The reason we led so many laps is we had a lot of short runs, great starts in the middle of the race, not much green flag racing. When we had green flag racing, again, we were fast a little time, not a lot of time.”
Hamlin said that Sunday though was a good baseline for them for when they come back in November.
“I mean, I think that we were better here than what we were in the fall,” he said. “When we got back in the back of the pack in the fall, we just were not very good in traffic. Luckily for us we stayed up front all day today. We didn’t have to fight much traffic, other than lap cars. By then our car was starting to fade anyway.
“We’ll just have to really look at the data and see where our strengths and weaknesses is, really digest into the 19 car and see where they’re different, what approach they have that’s different that’s making them so good at the end of this race.”
He also said that he can definitely find some positives through the early start to this season. He’s doing the best he can do and that’s why they need to come out of every weekend. That’s his goal as a driver to do everything that he can possible do to win and not make mistakes in doing so.
“Yeah, I mean, yeah, there’s just nothing I could have done I feel as a driver differently today,” said Hamlin. “I feel like I executed well on pit road. Obviously we were the only car that was able to take the lead on the restart on the outside multiple times. Sometimes the cards are dealt to you where you got a short run car, and at the end of the race comes down to a 40-lap run. That’s just outside your window of greatness.
“It’s just been amazing the execution that our team has had over the first eight races. Short of a pit road penalty I had on the last pit stop at Homestead, we finished top three every single week.
“It’s hard to be disappointed with that. We’re executing phenomenal. We just haven’t had that dominant car that we’ve had a few times last year that we just beat up on everyone. We just haven’t had that car yet. We’ve just been next best.
“This was just the seventh of eight races that I’ve done that, where I feel like there’s nothing else I could have done to change the outcome. So all you can do is concentrate on your job. Chris will concentrate on his, making the car better. Pit crew is getting better every single week. Everyone, as long as they stay calm and continue to focus on their job, nothing more, we’re going to continue to get better.
“The way we’re running, we can win any given week. We’ve just gotten beat by one or two cars each and every week that have just hit the setup a little bit better than we did.
“But it is, like you said, hard to complain. I don’t know what the record is for most points scored in eight races, but I think we pretty much got to be there (laughter). We don’t finish any worse than third in every stage, obviously we’re finishing in the top three or four every race.
“Just keep building on that, look at the positives, try not to be negative. Wins, we’re getting closer. We’re getting there.”