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Denny Hamlin’s Latest Best Chance at a Championship Thwarted by Lack of Speed and Handling

AVONDALE, ARIZONA – NOVEMBER 08: Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Discount Tire Ford, and Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Season Finale 500 at Phoenix Raceway on November 08, 2020 in Avondale, Arizona. Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Denny Hamlin’s hopes of hoisting a Bill France Cup, the trophy awarded to the NASCAR Cup Series champion, will have to wait another year as he came up short by finishing fourth in Sunday’s Season Finale 500 at Phoenix Raceway.

The 39-year old Hamlin was in the top-four essentially all race long, and even pressured Joey Logano in the early stages of the race for the lead. However, in the end Hamlin wound up fourth in the championship battle and he was the only Championship 4 contender who failed to lead a lap on Sunday. Following the race, Hamlin said his No. 11 machine was just a little off, as it had been all season, with the low downforce package.

“We were a little off handling, but overall car speed, we just didn’t have enough. Our next best teammate was 10th, so as an organization we have got to get a little better, especially on the short tracks,” Hamlin said. “It seems like we were a little bit off all year, and that was all it had, that’s for sure. I was pushing for everything I had. The FedEx Camry just didn’t quite have enough today, and we ended up fourth.”

Hamlin is 100-percent correct about being down on performance at the shorter tracks, which featured the low downforce package in 2020. In the 10 races on tracks 1-mile or shorter, Hamlin had an average finish of 13.1, and only recorded one win. On every other track layout, Hamlin had an average finish of 8.2 and racked up an impressive six wins.

While Sunday’s run was one of Hamlin’s best performances in the non-big ass spoiler package, it just simply wasn’t good enough to take home the ultimate prize.

“Obviously, this package in particular we weren’t great this year and this was one of our better runs with it, but it just wasn’t enough really,” Hamlin summarized.

Hamlin, who has amassed 13 wins over the last two seasons, has finished fourth in the NASCAR Cup Series championship point standings in two consecutive Championship 4 appearances. While dominance only lasts so long in NASCAR, Hamlin believes his team is still building toward being the best in the sport and isn’t panicked.

“No one has won more than we have over the last two years,” Hamlin explained. “Daytona 500 two years in a row, the final four two years in a row. I’m pretty proud of what this team is doing and what we are building toward. Proud of the effort. We will come back and do it again next year. I’m looking forward to it. We will win as many races as we possibly can to get ourselves back to Phoenix again with another shot, but I’m proud of this whole Joe Gibbs Racing FedEx team for giving me cars that are capable of winning every week.”

Hamlin’s career win total now sits at 44. By missing out on the title in 2020, he ensures that he will have the burden of carrying around the title of best active driver to never win the title again next season and, even if it’s not fair as last year’s title was lost on pit road and this year he had the slowest of the four cars in the championship race, Hamlin will need to shake the stigma of being the guy who hasn’t been able to close the deal with the championship on the line.

Toby Christie View All

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.

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