The weekend was going well for Denny Hamlin—up until the 80th lap of Sunday’s AAA Texas 500.
Hamlin came to Texas Motor Speedway second in the Playoff standings and qualified third for the second race of the Round of 8 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
But on Lap 80, while racing for position in the top 10, the driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota turned sideways in Turn 4 and slid through the infield grass, damaging the splitter on his Camry.
Hamlin lost two laps on pit road while his crew repaired the car. Slowed by the damage, he finished 28th, six laps down.
The real damage, however, came to his standing in the Playoff hierarchy. A five-time winner this year, Hamlin dropped to fifth in the standings, 20 points behind fourth-place Joey Logano—a huge deficit with one race left to determine the Championship 4 drivers.
Now a season that Hamlin characterized as his best to date depends on a stellar performance at ISM Raceway in Phoenix.
“Just got up in that stuff (traction compound) before it was really broke in,” Hamlin said. “Just lost control. That’s all there is to it. Proud of the whole FedEx team for putting their best effort forward so we could be there at the end. Did the best we could, and we’ll go to Phoenix and try to win.
“The car and the effort will be there, that’s for sure. There’s no doubt in my mind that we can go there and win. In these circumstances, I like the challenge. We’re going to go out there and give it our best shot and put our best foot forward and see if we can’t get a win next week.”