A power steering failure in last weekend’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway knocked Hamlin out early and left him with a 17-point deficit heading into Sunday’s race at Martinsville.
The weekend started well with Hamlin fastest in Saturday’s practice and he qualified fourth for the race. He won the first stage and finished second in Stage 2.
Late in the race, Hamlin was among those drivers who pitted a bit later for their final stop and well within their pit window, lining up 11th on the final restart.
He was able to make up some ground, but Ryan Blaney got around him and eventually moved into the lead. With the race ending on a 168-lap green-flag run, there were no cautions to give Hamlin another shot at the leaders.
He finished third in the race but was left eight points behind William Byron, who claimed the fourth and final spot in the Championship 4.
Photo by: Gavin Baker / NKP / Motorsport Images
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, FedEx Toyota Camry
“The mechanical failure last week with the power steering, that sealed our fate,” Hamlin said. “I’m really proud of this whole team for showing up today when we really needed to, having probably a mid-50-point day. They did great. They did absolutely great.
“The No. 12 car (Blaney) was the best car today, so congrats to them – all the final four that made it. It’s going to be great. Hate we’re not in it.”
One year ago, Hamlin entered the Martinsville race with a points cushion that looked like it would carry him to the Championship 4 but Ross Chastain dramatic last-lap wall-riding maneuver helped him edge Hamlin for the final transfer spot.
This season, Hamlin and his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team were among the most consistent teams. He won three times this year, including once early in the playoffs and until his incident at Homestead, was in contention for the win or at least a strong finish.
Asked about his emotions on missing out on another chance to win his first series championship, Hamlin said, “Man, I just want to get ready and go try to win next week. I still love it so much because every week I feel like I got a shot to win.
“That’s what fuels my passion, even at my age, to keep doing this, is I’m with the team that I got that gives me such fast cars every week and gives me a chance to continue to pile on those stats before the end of my career.
“It’s not over by any means. We got a long way to go.”