Denny Hamlin rallies to runner-up finish

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CONCORD, N.C. — Denny Hamlin says work remains for his team but it was hard to complain after he went from a 29th starting spot to finishing second in Thursday night’s Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“We had a good run,” said the Daytona 500 winner. “Just we struggled a little bit on the short run. Pit crew did a phenomenal job the last couple stops. They picked us up three spots every time at least, and 29th to second in half the distance of a normal race, I mean, that’s about all we could even ask for.”

He did it without crew chief Chris Gabehart, who was among three team members NASCAR suspended for four races after ballast fell out of Hamlin’s car before last weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 start. Thursday was the first of those four races for Gabehart and two other crew members to miss.

Since the Cup season resumed May 17 at Darlington, Hamlin has finished in the top five in three of the four races, including his win at Darlington on May 20.

But there was nothing he could do to catch winner Chase Elliott on Thursday.

“It’s just Chevys in general,” Hamlin said. “They’re fast, and they’re really the only manufacturer that got to build a car directly for the package that we run. These other cars, the Toyotas and Fords, were built on the low downforce package and then we added a bunch of spoiler and splitter to them. 

“Certainly there was an advantage knowing that, okay, this is the real package, how can we optimize downforce and drag, and I think Chevys have done that.”

Even so, he understands what a runner-up finish can mean.

“Every time we go to a racetrack the second time, the results are amazing,” said Hamlin, who climbed into the top 10 on Lap 118 of the 208-lap race and never fell out of it the rest of the night. “We’re making the right adjustments, we’re doing the right things, and that’s good because the end of the year in the playoffs you’re going back to racetracks for the second time, and that’s when we need to run well, and that’s what got us to the final four last year.

“I like our chances. I think even though we’re still maybe off a little bit with our organization on speed, I think that we’re still getting good finishes out of it, and we’re weathering the storm until we can get our stuff a little bit better.”