Denny Hamlin knows he’s not the first driver to have had championship chances slip through his fingers.
After winning the pole for Sunday’s season finale (3 p.m. ET, NBC) at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver lamented being eliminated from the playoffs last weekend. Contact from Chase Elliott eventually cut down a tire on Hamlin’s Toyota, sending him hard into the Turn 3 wall and out of the race.
Hamlin’s feelings have not changed on the events that have transpired between him and Elliott over the last few weeks. An “unfortunate circumstance” is what Hamlin called it after qualifying.
Winning the pole for the final race of the year was of little solace.
“It’s half-satisfaction. Half of its disappointment because you only run this good for so long,” Hamlin said. “I feel like we timed out the playoffs really, really well. We performed great over the last three or four races, better than probably any stretch of my career that we’ve performed for that consecutive amount of weeks. Qualifying second, second, first the last three [races]. All that’s just been really good.
“But we don’t have our chance [for the championship]. We’re not part of the final four. So, I think there’s a little bit of satisfaction proving that you should be here with a chance, but it’s also a little disheartening that you’re not.”
This is a position Hamlin has been in too many times before. Before the elimination format in the playoffs was implemented, Hamlin had a championship wrestled from him in the finale by Jimmie Johnson.
Under the current format, Hamlin has been in title contention only once, finishing third in 2014, the inaugural season of the current elimination-style format.
“I’ve been doing this for 12 years, and it’s always close, close, close, close. Never there,” Hamlin said. “2014 was the last time we were here in the final four. We were leading with nine [laps] to go, and some backmarkers crashed. That took us out. Some other guys pitted, we didn’t.
“I feel like when we have to really perform well, we really, really do. And sometimes circumstances take you out of the playoffs. I’ve had roof hatches fly open. I’ve had running out of gas. Everything you can imagine bad luck-wise. Sometimes, like this year, it was not bad luck. It was driver mistake and things like that.
“So, we all share in it. But I’m comfortable in feeling that eventually, we’re going to have our time. Eventually, we’ll win our championship, and when we do, it will probably mean that much more.”
With the checkered flag Sunday afternoon Hamlin will have completed his 12th full season in the Cup Series. He has 31 career wins.