RICHMOND, Va. — There’s a good chance that Denny Hamlin will fail to advance from the first round of the playoffs for the first time in his career.
And that might be the least of the Joe Gibbs Racing driver’s concerns now.
“I’m not worried about the playoffs,” Hamlin said after finishing 16th at Richmond Raceway. “I’m just worried about running better. With our teammate winning, and us running like a bag of shit, it’s just disappointing every week. We were just bad all day.”
After qualifying second, Hamlin was forced to make a green-flag pit stop on Lap 55 after nearly spinning from contact with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. He rebounded quickly by unlapping himself after only 27 laps, gaining two points with a ninth in Stage 1.
But that would be the highlight at the hometown track for the Chesterfield, Va., native, who struggled in traffic for the rest of the 400-lap race that was won by teammate Kyle Busch.
In six of the past eight races, Hamlin has qualified in the top three. His best finish in those races is eighth, and he’s placed outside the top 10 in the past three.
“It just seems like once we get in race trim, I can’t get the car to do anything that it’s supposed to do,” he said. “I can make it go fast for a lap in qualifying, just not do the things that it’s supposed to do around the racetrack. And the things that I watch (Busch) doing successfully. It’s just really disappointing.
“I thought after practice we’d be quite a bit better, but as soon as we dropped the green, the car just didn’t have a good feel to it. I knew we were in trouble the first 10 laps.”
After opening the playoffs with a 32nd at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Hamlin is ranked last among the 16 playoff drivers heading into the Sept. 30 cutoff race, which will mark the Cup debut for Charlotte Motor Speedway’s road course. The No. 11 Toyota trails the 12th and final provisional spot by 29 points.
“We probably need to go there and win,” he said.