0-26. That’s the season stat Denny Hamlin sees the most. Hamlin went winless in NASCAR’s regular season; in fact his last win in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series came at Darlington on Labor Day weekend last season.
Monday at the Brickyard he came mighty close.
After starting 10th, at the first competition caution, Hamlin used pit strategy staying out to take the lead.
He would go on to lead 37 laps, in a tie with Clint Bowyer for the race high. Hamlin was competitive all race long and was leading in the closing laps. But a late race accident between Landon Cassill and Jeffrey Earnhardt, both running for 29th, brought out the races final caution with 7 laps to go.
The restart came with 3 to go. Hamlin was leading but with tires 15 laps fresher, Brad Keselowski, who restarted third directly behind Hamlin, was soon side by side with Hamlin. The two bumped and banged their way for a lap with Keselowski taking the lead coming out of turn 4 as they came to the white flag. On the final lap Erik Jones was able to slip past Hamlin, who finished third.
“I had the race pretty well in hand,” an obviously unhappy Hamlin said. “Landon Cassill wrecked for no apparent reason at the end and then we just got roughed up by the 2 (Brad Keselowski) there at the end – on new tires. Very unfortunate, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. Sometimes cautions don’t fall your way. We were able to survive the first few but allowed those guys to – with all those cautions and meaningless wrecks – to the guys on new tires to be right on us and that’s what happened.”
As for what he needed to hold Keselowski off on the final laps.
“Not have meaningless guys in the back wreck,” Hamlin said. “I don’t know what they’re doing crashing with a couple laps to go, multiple laps down. Meaningless. Besides that, all those cautions allowed the guys who took tires and save their strategy – allowed them to come back up there and obviously allowed the 2 (Brad Keselowski) to kind of rough us up there at the end. Very unfortunate, but it’s what happens sometimes.”
Despite not winning this season Hamlin made the playoffs on points and is seeded 13th.
“I don’t even care about the playoffs at this moment,” Hamlin said. “All I care about is not winning this race. It’s one that was big on my list of races that I wanted to win and the team gave me a car that was certainly capable of doing that today and executed flawlessly on pit lane. The strategy was good. I had a fast car. Just circumstances. The cautions. Cautions killed us at the end and allowed those guys to come up here.”