FORT WORTH, Texas — A championship that seemed destined for Denny Hamlin is in jeopardy after Sunday’s woeful result.
Hamlin’s early spin turned into a 28th-place finish that could keep him from advancing to the championship race in Miami in two weeks.
Hamlin trails rival Joey Logano for the final transfer spot by 20 points.
“It could be worse,” Hamlin said. “It could be more points.”
True, but this has been a playoff that Hamlin seemed poised to win his first Cup title. Joe Gibbs Racing has been dominant, winning 17 of the 34 races this season. Hamlin has five of those victories, the most he’s had in a season since 2012. The only season he’s had more wins was 2010 when he had eight victories before losing the championship to Jimmie Johnson.
Hamlin, who has one win and five top-five finishes in the first eight playoff races this season, is in his position after losing control of his car on Lap 81 of the 334-lap race. Hamlin spun off Turn 4 and slid into the infield grass. His car passed over a paved section that launched the car in the air and the front dug into the grass when it landed, damaging the car. Hamlin was never a factor after that and finished six laps behind winner Kevin Harvick.
“The traction compound, it just takes so long to burn in that it wasn’t ready,” Hamlin said of what caused him to spin and begin the turbulent trip. “I wasn’t trying to be up there. I just got a little tight behind the car that was in front of me (Alex Bowman). Barely got my right sides in (the traction compound), hit a bump, took the left sides in it and it was all over.”
Hamlin’s car was the third this weekend to spin through the grass and suffer damage. Two cars in Saturday’s Xfinity race also were damaged when going through the grass. Charlotte Motor Speedway is the only track on the circuit that has turf instead of grass. That turf is meant to not damage cars as grass does. Charlotte Motor Speedway is owned by the same company that owns Texas Motor Speedway.
Asked about the grass damaging his car, Hamlin said: “Until the tracks spend the money to do it, it’s just going to be a part of it. You just got to know that you can’t spin.”
There’s little he can do about his situation now. The focus turns to ISM Raceway. Hamlin finished fifth there in the spring. That track will have traction compound in all four corners for the first time in an effort to create multiple lanes for drivers to run.
“I’m optimistic we can win,” Hamlin said. “We’ve been really good there for many, many years and knowing that we have to go win, it puts a very easy strategy in our hands. If anything you have an advantage with cautions coming out and some people battling for stage points, we’re going to get good track position as long as we’re competitive at the end of that race because we’re going just for that race win.”