Rusty Jarrett / Motorsport Images Jarrett/NKP/Motorsport Images
Denny Hamlin used the most straightforward analogy possible to describe how frustrating his NASCAR Cup Series season has been:
“Honestly, it’s just been week after week of being the coyote that gets the anvil dropped on its head,” Hamlin said. “I don’t even know how else to explain it.”
Despite a win at Richmond Raceway last month, Hamlin is 23rd in the standings. Not since Richmond has Hamlin finished inside the top 10. The No. 11 team has given Hamlin fast race cars and he has led laps — it’s just been far harder to get the results.
Last weekend at Dover Motor Speedway, Hamlin had a wheel fall off while leaving pit road as the leader. In the middle of rebounding, Hamlin, running fourth, ended up with damage when getting clipped by Cody Ware as he spun down the racetrack.
“Even after the wheel falls off, I think we got back to about 10th or 12th or something in the middle of one run and I said, ‘If we don’t just [expletive] from here, we’re going to lap the field,’” Hamlin said. “Like, this [car] is just incredible. My cars have been really fast. Las Vegas — I had the best car and was leading until I missed a shift. It’s just been a lot of things that have certainly kept us and our result from looking the way it should.
“I noticed and my team doesn’t need to convince me how strong we are or how good we can be, but I’m [23rd] in points — and this is before last week — and Chase [Elliott] is leading. We have a better average running position of the race than Chase and we’re 23 [places] different in points. So our performance, when we’re not at Martinsville running 30th, has been really good all year; we’ve just had things that have broke.”
Hamlin said he’d had more mechanical failures this year than ever before. Some are out of the team’s control with the new car, and Hamlin did say NASCAR is continuing to work to develop better parts and pieces.
“But we’ve been kind of the poster child of the ones that break things,” Hamlin said. “And then last week, what can I do? The No. 51 spun there, and I just didn’t get around him without running into him. It’s been unfortunate, but I can tell you it’s a lot different from running 10th every week and trying to figure out how you’re going to get enough speed to win. That’s what I’d really be worried about.”
Hamlin admitted his team has given up on regular-season points. They will not be pushing to try and climb into the top 10 in the standings to be among the drivers who are awarded extra points toward the playoffs. The goal, now, is simply to go for playoff points.
“When you see the field start splitting because they want stage points or whatever, you know where the No. 11 stands from this point on,” Hamlin said. “We’re trying to get five points at the end of the race (for a win) and two for the playoffs during stages. It actually simplifies our strategy for the regular season.”
After breaking down his season, Hamlin’s misfortune continued in qualifying at Darlington Raceway. Clocking in 22nd fastest, Hamlin reported something was wrong with his car as it was making a grinding sound and losing power. The team is still diagnosing the issue, and any changes or repairs would result in Hamlin starting at the rear of the field.