It was an unexpected mishap early in the CampingWorld.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway that ensured the Joe Gibbs Racing driver would finish four laps off the lead in 37th, missing the chance to advance in the Chase by eight points.
Hamlin had spent much of the first 80 laps in the top 10, even leading twice for five laps. But on Lap 86 the No. 11 made the first of multiple visits to pit road to fix a faulty roof hatch. NASCAR had not ordered the the car to pit road, but had told crew chief Dave Rogers to fix it.
“It wasn’t a racing decision — if it came off and I don’t have something to replace it, then I can’t finish the race,” Rogers told ESPN.com. “You could put a roof flap up in the stands, which would be dangerous for our fans. … I don’t carry roof hatches, I don’t have anything to fix it [quickly], I’m in big trouble.”
Rogers believed the team would lose only a lap in the process of repairing the optional roof flap for restrictor-plate races and would benefit from being getting the lap back on a caution. But Rogers didn’t anticipate his crew not being able to fix the hatch properly.
Hamlin would have to pit again a few laps later.
“Where our day went really bad was where our repairs weren’t good enough to get to that yellow,” Rogers said.
One of the four drivers in the championship round in 2014, Hamlin didn’t agree with the decision to pit initially given he hadn’t been black flagged.
“I should not have come in for sure, not unless they told me I had to come in,” Hamlin told ESPN.com. “Worse comes to worse, the thing flies off, the caution comes out and we fix the hole in our roof. We just didn’t get everything in place to have a good finish.”
Hamlin’s elimination comes after he finished fourth and second in the first two races of the second round, at Charlotte and Kansas.