FORT WORTH, Texas — What a difference a week makes in NASCAR’s current format for deciding a champion.
For 33 weeks, Denny Hamlin has looked like a formidable — if not certain — Championship 4 contender. However, after a rough Sunday in the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, the driver of the No. 11 car faces what nearly amounts to a must-win situation if he wants to compete for his first championship.
“Your whole season can turn with one particular race, but it’s just part of the format,” Hamlin said Sunday after climbing from his No. 11 machine. “You know it going in.”
Hamlin, 38, had a car that showed speed all week long, and after dropping a few spots early in the race, he rebounded to sit inside the top-five.
However, with just a few laps remaining in Stage 1, Hamlin slipped out of the groove and into the not yet sticky PJ1, which had been applied to promote multiple-groove racing at Texas Motor Speedway.
Following the race, the Virginia native was left shaking his head about what happened to derail his evening.
“Just frustrated in general,” Hamlin said. “It’s nobody’s fault — I’m the driver of the car. But, certainly wasn’t even trying to test it up there. It wasn’t ready. It’s just a really narrow track until that stuff burned in, which was later in the race.”
The spin sent Hamlin into the infield grass as he exited turn four. Hamlin skidded through the grass. When Hamlin reached the grass, the front-end of his car dug in, which ripped the splitter on his Toyota Camry.
He wasn’t competitive the rest of the day.
In the end, Hamlin puttered around to finish 28th, six laps off the pace.
Now, Hamlin sits in a precariously behind the eight-ball as he heads to ISM Raceway in Phoenix, with his championship hopes on the line. However, Hamlin, who has been calm and confident all season long, feels at peace with next weekend.
In fact, Hamlin thinks not worrying about points could be an advantage for his race team.
“I’m optimistic that we can win,” Hamlin said. “We have been really good there for many many years. Knowing that we have to go win, it puts a really easy strategy in our hands where if anything — I think you have an advantage…”
Will not worrying about points be an advantage? We will find out next week in Phoenix.
*Note: Denny Hamlin does not have to win mathematically to win the race, however the driver of the No. 11 car feels that with the drivers that are ahead of him in the standings, he will have to win to overcome their advantage.
Toby is the Founder, Editor and go-to man for TobyChristie.com. He is also the co-host of The Final Lap Weekly Podcast. Additionally, Toby is a NMPA (National Motorsports Press Association) award winning writer, and has followed NASCAR as a fan since 1993.