HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Denny Hamlin announced Friday on Twitter that he and crew chief Mike Wheeler will part after this season.
Hamlin did not state who his crew chief will be in 2019.
Wheeler, who was hand-picked by Hamlin, has been Hamlin’s crew chief since 2015. Wheeler had been Hamlin’s engineer previously.
Hamlin said of Wheeler before the 2016 season: “He’s my guy and he’s going to be my guy until I retire. We made a vow to each other that we would be working together for a long time.”
So what happened?
“I don’t want to get into details, to be honest with you, and rehash it all, but certainly when it all started that I knew he was someone that had been working with me since 2004 ‑‑ yeah, 2004, or even when I started in that EJP truck way back in the day, he’d go up there to Maine and check it out,” Hamlin said after winning the pole for Sunday’s race.
“He was a guy that was always working his way up the ladder within JGR, within the engineering program. He’s super smart, like I said, a great friend of mine. The spot was always his.
“But obviously it’s a big performance business, and even though ‑‑ if you compare us to other drivers that people think are having a great season and we’re actually having a better season, it’s kind of unfair. You know, that’s just the standards which we have for ourselves. We just ‑‑ a change is going to be made, and that’s all I can really say about it.”
Hamlin won three races – including the Daytona 500 – with Wheeler and finished sixth in the standings in 2016. Hamlin won two races last year and finished sixth in the standings with Wheeler.
This season has not gone as well. Hamlin’s streak of having at least one victory in a season is set to end after 12 consecutive years unless he wins Sunday’s finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Hamlin enters this weekend 11th in the standings, four points behind Kyle Larson for 10th. Hamlin last finished outside the top 10 in points in 2013 when he missed four races and placed 23rd. He has not finished outside the top 10 in points in a season where he ran every race that year since 2007. He was 12th in points that season, his second full year in Cup.