Despite Bad Luck, Denny Hamlin Remains Confident on Championship 4 Chances
A mechanical failure ended the day for Denny Hamlin at Homestead-Miami Speedway and put him behind the Playoffs cutline with one race remaining in the Round of 8, but the battle-tested veteran feels confident heading into one of his best tracks.
Bad beats; Denny Hamlin has seen quite a few over the course of his 18-year NASCAR Cup Series career. The future NASCAR Hall of Famer has 51 victories on his résumé. Yet, still, a NASCAR Cup Series championship inexplicably eludes him.
Auto racing can just be bitterly cruel sometimes, and Hamlin knows this all too well.
Heading into last weekend's event at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Hamlin found himself three points above the Playoff cutline, and as the race was drawing to a close, it looked like he would exit Florida in a very comfortable points position. Then, a mechanical failure sent his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry into the outside wall and ended his day 31 laps shy of the finish.
In an instant, Hamlin saw a complete reversal of his Playoff fortunes, and he now heads into this weekend's Round of 8 elimination event at Martinsville Speedway 17 points below the cutline.
"It's hard to not get emotional about it because this is my life's work. This is what I push every year to try to do and to accomplish," Hamlin grimaced. "But man, just can't seem to get the right breaks at the right time. Or just to not have bad things happen at the most inopportune time."
When Hamlin says he has had bad things happen at the most inopportune times over the years, while trying to secure a championship, he isn't kidding.
In 2012, Hamlin had a car capable of winning at Martinsville Speedway, but an electrical short in the dash of his No. 11 machine would hinder him on that fall afternoon in Virginia.
While Hamlin would continue to battle back from the issues, working his way back up to the lead in the race, he would eventually go behind the wall for more than 30 laps due to the mechanical gremlins. His shot at the title that season ended on that afternoon.
In 2015, Hamlin came into the Playoff event at Talladega Superspeedway ranked second in the Playoff Grid. However, an issue with his roof hatch popped up during the event.
After numerous repairs, Hamlin dropped to 39th, two laps off the pace, and then was caught up in a melee in the closing laps. His chance at the championship was done for.
In the NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2019, it looked like it was finally going to be Hamlin's year to win it all.
Hamlin had enjoyed an incredible six-win season, and he started the championship race from the pole position. However, as Hamlin was reeling in his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch for the race lead, and championship, he was called to pit road with 58 laps remaining.
On this pit stop, Hamlin's team slapped a piece of tape on the grille of his No. 11 Toyota in an effort to improve handling on his car on the final run of the race. Only problem was the tape was far too large, and Hamlin's car began to overheat as a result.
Hamlin would have to re-pit to remove the tape, and would end up finishing 10th in the race, another tough pill to swallow.
And last season, Hamlin seemed to be in a position to work his way into the Championship 4 for a fourth-consecutive season, when Ross Chastain reached into his bag of tricks and executed his famed 'Hail Melon' move on the final lap to narrowly edge Hamlin out for the final Championship 4 berth.
He has truly seen it all, and that may very well be why Hamlin could be the driver best suited to handle the cards he was dealt at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Heading into Martinsville down nearly 20 points to Ryan Blaney for the final Championship 4 berth isn't ideal, but for a driver who is as good at the half-mile paperclip as Hamlin is, it's not insurmountable.
"I think winning one race is an uphill battle. But I certainly believe that we can win this weekend, and I believe we can win next weekend after that," Hamlin stated with optimism. "But there's a lot of factors in it. We talk about it every single week, but I know we're going to my best track. We've been behind the eight ball before, and we usually show up in these situations and put our best effort forward. I certainly feel like there's heavy motivation come this week."
When pressed by his co-host Jared Allen to give a defining statement of his confidence, Hamlin opted to take a conservative approach. However, Hamlin ended his conservative answer with an emphatic final sentence.
"I don't need to give any more bulletin board material," Hamlin said. "We know what we're capable of, and we're going to go do it."
Can Hamlin work his way back to the Championship 4? Only time will tell, but you can watch the drama unfold in Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series Xfinity 500 at 2:30 PM ET on NBC.
Photo Credit: David Rosenblum, LAT Images, Courtesy of Toyota Racing