INDIANAPOLIS –Denny Hamlin led 37 laps but didn’t win the 2018 Brickyard 400. He was leading on a late race restart but crashed hard in Turn 1 after leading 19 more laps a year ago. Today, on the 2.439-mile inaugural road course layout for the Verizon 200, there Hamlin was leading again.
He had a bold strategy by coming to his final stop. He ran the stint long. Chase Elliott peeled off the 2.439 mile track on Lap 53. Kyle Larson did so one lap later. Hamlin meanwhile, knew that their only shot of winning on Sunday was to do the opposite. They went for broke.
It nearly worked too.
They pit on Lap 61, then a caution came out 11 laps later for debris. The guys that had pit prior to Hamlin — all pit again during this caution break, handing the lead back over to Joe Gibbs Racing driver on Lap 74.
He’d stay there despite two late restarts until Chase Briscoe got into him in Turn 8 coming to the white flag. Instead, he’d finish 23rd.
“It’s 3 out of the last 5,” Hamlin said on having should have won multiple times over the last five years here. “It’s frustrating.”
Hamlin says that the racing at the end alters the entire complexity of the race. The final restarts ruin a good finish.
“A late race restart is a total crap shoot,” he continued. “We put a lot of time and a lot of money in these cars to just crash. If you get out run you get out run, but it sucks the way that it’s ended here. Tough racing right now when the results are fabricated by last race restarts.”
To further the frustration, Hamlin falls even further behind in the regular season overall standings. He entered this weekend tied with Kyle Larson but was over 130 points ahead back in May. Larson was coming but Hamlin was keeping him at bay over the last month or so.
Larson, scored two stage points on Sunday with Hamlin not having any. That gave him a two point advantage but with Hamlin leading in the end and Larson in fifth, he was going to recapture a slim lead.
“I didn’t think I’d get crashed coming to the white,” Hamlin said. “I thought we were going to have a great day and take back the points lead but instead it turned around.
Hamlin, says that he’s not going to payback Briscoe in the future but does say he will race him a bit differently from this point forward.
“I’m not going to harp on it,” he said. “You have to live with the result because you can’t change it. He can’t change it. I can’t change it, right? I got crashed. He made a mistake. It happens. I think he was in desperation mode like he said and it came at my expense. Certainly if roles were reversed down the line, and he’s going to be here a while, probably not going to cut him any breaks in the end. It all comes back around. It doesn’t mean I’m wrecking him. It just means I won’t cut him any breaks from here on out.”
Next week we go to Michigan to where Larson has had a big advantage over the years then to Daytona to where Hamlin has the advantage. Sunday’s ending could be the reason as to why Larson win the regular season championship and takes 15 additional playoff points. That equates out to three race wins, something Hamlin doesn’t have a single one of.
Hamlin does clinch a spot in the playoffs via points but he’d love to have 15 playoff points since he only has five right now overall via stage wins.