Denny Hamlin won when he had to, seizing victory Nov. 10 at ISM Raceway in Phoenix to earn an 11th-hour ticket into Sunday’s Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Despite his best efforts, Hamlin couldn’t duplicate the feat accomplished in 2014 by Kevin Harvick, who won the last two races of the season to claim his only Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship to date.
Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 started in daylight, and Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota didn’t respond. For the first two stages of the race, Hamlin, for the most part, was fourth among the four title contenders. After sunset, when Hamlin’s Camry came to life, an extra pit stop to remove tape from the grille—a measure to counteract a potential overheating issue—proved more than Hamlin could overcome.
“I don’t think I could have done a better job,” Hamlin said in his post-mortem of the event. “I don’t think I could have… I didn’t leave anything out there. So for the first half of the race, we just weren’t fast enough, we weren’t handling very good, and all of a sudden it went nighttime and we took off, and suddenly I perked up and got a little more and was thinking that we’ve got a chance.
“Then just didn’t work out. Definitely, like I said, last week, I was going to come in here and do the best I could and live with the result either way. I definitely feel like I couldn’t have done anything different. Certainly we got a little aggressive there (with extra tape on the grille), and it cost us, but I mean, he (crew chief Chris Gabehart) also been really aggressive and won us races, too.
“It’s just he’s going for it. He saw an opportunity there to really add some speed to the car, and it just didn’t work out.”