Denny Hamlin left Indianapolis uninjured but disappointed after a big hit ended his bid at a victory.
The No. 11 Toyota was leading with seven laps to go the right-front tire blew going into Turn 1. Hamlin was in control of the race over Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth, having cycled ahead of Harvick by pitting one lap sooner (on lap 122) and then fending off the field on a restart with 22 laps to go.
Hamlin has never won at Indianapolis. Had he closed the deal, it would have been the third crown jewel event – alongside the Daytona 500 and Southern 500 – Hamlin laid claim to in the NASCAR Cup Series.
“It’s just tough,” said Hamlin of his 28th-place finish. “I hate it for the FedEx team. We didn’t do what we needed to do, and it didn’t work out for us today. I had a fast car, obviously, and was stretching it out there but wasn’t pushing the right front at all. It’s kind of roulette if you’re going to get one that will stay together or not, and mine didn’t. You saw the end result.
“These big races – things don’t go my way all the time. We’re still going to go next week and try to win the next one. We’ll do all we can.”
Indianapolis has been one of Hamlin’s better tracks in recent years. Sixth and third in the last two races at the Brickyard going into Sunday afternoon, Hamlin was also riding a streak of five top-six finishes in the previous six races at the speedway.
When he cycled to the race lead on lap 135, it was the first time Hamlin had held the top spot. Much of the race he spent fighting dirty air and restarts, feeling his car was strong enough to lead and contend but never having the track position. Off a restart on lap 106, Hamlin did make it three-wide going into Turn 3 with Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick and briefly grabbed the lead before Harvick powered by on the outside for the position.
Hamlin and Harvick were the class of the field at Indianapolis. Harvick led the most laps (68) and won the race while Hamlin led just 19, but the two hounded each other for much of the second half of the day. The two have also been putting up a strong case as championship favorites, with Harvick leading the points and Hamlin, who has the most playoff points, now tied for the most wins in the series at four apiece.
“It’s been a great battle, and those guys are great competitors,” Hamlin said. “The last few weeks, it’s been a head-to-head battle with me and him. There’s probably not another guy I would rather battle with each and every week. Congrats to them and their team, they did a great job. Obviously, we had two very, very close and equal cars. They got it today.”