Denny Hamlin will face his first challenge of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs at the worst time.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is the first one below a transfer spot (by 20 points) after finishing 28th at Texas Motor Speedway. Hamlin had entered the weekend with a 24-point advantage, but when he spun coming off Turn 4 on lap 82, it heavily damaged his Toyota Camry and knocked him multiple laps down to the leaders.
“It could have been worse; it could be more points,” Hamlin said afterward.
It looked like Hamlin might escape unscathed when he began sliding through the frontstretch grass. However, his car went airborne over the paved section of the quarter-mile track and dug into the grass upon landing. The landing damaged the left rear of Hamlin car’s and significantly damaged the right front and part of the hood.
“Definitely got the mentality to go out there and try to win,” he said of the elimination race at ISM Raceway, which will set the Championship 4. “That’s what we’re going to try to do.”
This is the first time Hamlin has been below the cutline in the playoffs. Up until now, he was never under any pressure due to his playoff points and winning in the last round at Kansas Speedway.
Hamlin spun while running higher through the corners where the traction compound had been laid down. He said he wasn’t trying to test running up there when he found trouble.
“The traction compound, it takes so long to burn in it wasn’t ready,” Hamlin said. “And 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 it, hit a bump, took the left sides (and) put the left sides in it, and it was all over.”
Hamlin has made the title race just once in six years – its debut season in 2014. He finished fifth at ISM Raceway in the spring and has a 2012 win at the track.