Short run speed dooms Denny Hamlin at Phoenix

AVONDALE, ARIZONA - NOVEMBER 07: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway on November 07, 2021 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Denny Hamlin admitted Sunday night that short run speed was lacking in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota at Phoenix Raceway.

Hamlin never led a lap but was in the mix the entire race running as high as second at one point. However, the final laps of the race played out over the course of 30 circuits and Hamlin had to settle for third.

“Honestly, there’s just nothing else I could have done,” Hamlin said. “There’s nothing else. I drove as hard as I could every lap. I didn’t have the speed for the first 20. It was evident in a lot of the restarts we had. It was actually overachieved in quite a few. But that was it.

“I have to live with the result because I can’t change it. Disappointed, absolutely, for sure. But I knew kind of going into today I was going to need the race to go a certain way. If it goes the way it did last year, it goes green out, we’re probably winning.”

Hamlin admitted that once eventual race winner Kyle Larson got the lead on the final round of pit stops, there would be little hope he could reel him in. Hamlin restarted fourth and was able to get around Chase Elliott for third with 10 laps to go but ran out of time.

“I mean, with every lap we just kept reeling the 19 and 5 in,” he said. “I had to get back around the 9. Once we did that, we just started making hay towards the front.

“Track position just means so much. It doesn’t matter, big spoiler, small spoiler. These cars just put off such a big wake. We don’t have the horsepower we used to be. 750 is probably down 150 from where we used to be. So track position, no matter what racetrack, is just a big, big deal.

“You kind of know like when someone gets a restart and controls the race late, it’s so hard. You’re going to need them to really make a huge mistake. My crew chief kept telling me how bad the 5 car was handling. You could see he was just plowing, but the clean air made up for any deficiencies in that setup.

“But it didn’t. We knew that our percentage was low, and that was the case. Many of these races come down to green-white checkers or shootouts at the end, and that just wasn’t our strength and hasn’t been ever.”

Greg Engle