FORT WORTH, TX – Denny Hamlin was everyone’s sleeper pick to win this year’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship. After all, he entered this season 22/1 odds. He only came out of the gates and won the Daytona 500.
Heading into this weekend’s penultimate race of the Round of 8, Hamlin had five wins and a career high in top five finishes and tied for a career high with top 10’s. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver also had a top five finish in four straight races and five in the last six overall.
One of his five wins this season came at the Texas Motor Speedway back in March too. On Friday, Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota showed a ton of speed. He backed that up with a top five starting spot for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500.
Unfortunately, despite such a good season thus far, Hamlin’s championship hopes are in peril. Hamlin, lost control of his car on Lap 80 and spun through the infield grass. That caused a ton of damage to his splitter and the left rear of his car. He’d have to pit a couple of times for a lengthy repair, but the damage was already done. Hamlin, would suffer through the day and finish a disappointing 28th, six laps down.
On a day that Hamlin scored zero stage points and went from +23 to -20 in the standings, Hamlin says it could have been worse.
“It could be worse,” said the Virginia native. “It could be more points. The traction compound, it just takes so long to burn in. It wasn’t ready. I wasn’t trying to be up there. I just got a little tight behind the car that was in front of me. Barely got my right sides in the traction compound, hit a bump, took the left sides in it and it was all over.”
Hamlin, now has to turn his focus on Phoenix. He finished fifth in the spring race on a day his teammates went 1-3-5 overall. The speed will be there. He’s won at Phoenix in the past.
Unfortunately, 20 points is a lot to make up without winning.