INDIANAPOLIS — Heartbreak came with heartburn for Denny Hamlin on Sunday.
For the third time in the last four years, Hamlin was in position to win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But no one could have foreseen how he’d lose this race.
After losing the lead to Brad Keselowski coming to the white flag in 2018 and having a tire go down while leading late in last year’s race, Hamlin lost Sunday’s race on the road course when he was spun from the lead in overtime by a car that NASCAR penalized for an infraction earlier in the lap.
Chase Briscoe, who was cited for cutting the corner in Turn 2 on the final restart, hit the back of Hamlin’s car and turned Hamlin in Turn 10. AJ Allmendinger inherited the lead and went on to win.
“It’s just lack of situational awareness,” Hamlin said of Briscoe’s move. “Obviously, you’re going to have a penalty if you cut the race track like he did. I’m not, like, furious. It sucks. It obviously turned our day upside down.”
Briscoe said he was unaware he would be penalized for being forced into the grass and cutting Turn 2. NBC Sports reported on the broadcast when the field was in Turn 7 that Briscoe would be penalized.
“I get why he’s upset,” Briscoe said. “I get why he’s mad. If I would have known I had a penalty, I would have never tried to pass him there. At that moment in time, I was going for the win. That’s what I’m paid to do.”
A frustrated Hamlin walked over to Briscoe on pit road and they discussed the contact without incident.
Hamlin later said he could “accept” the result.
“I’m not going to harp on it,” Hamlin said. “You have to live with the result. You know why? Because you can’t change it. He can’t change it. I can’t change it. I got crashed. He made a mistake. It happens.
“I think he was in desperation mode like he said and it came at my expense. Certainly, if the roles were reversed down the line – he’s certainly going to be here awhile – I’m probably not going to cut him any breaks at the end. It all comes back around one way or another. It doesn’t mean I’m wrecking him. It just means I won’t cut him any breaks from here on out.”
Hamlin later said: “I didn’t think I would get crashed going to the white (flag). I thought ‘No matter what, I was going to have a great day and take back the points lead’ and now, it’s upside down.”
While Hamlin finished 23rd, he clinched a playoff spot via points.
Only two races remain in the regular season and he has the most points among the three winless drivers in a playoff spot. Neither Kevin Harvick nor Tyler Reddick can pass Hamlin in points in the next two races.