Denny Hamlin had a frustrating third-place finish at Michigan International Speedway, given what could have been before the final restart.
The first driver off pit road, Hamlin sat second behind Kevin Harvick under the final caution. Having already made his pit stop before the last caution, Harvick had stayed on track and inherited the race lead, but Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team committed a double whammy when a rogue tire resulted in a team member going over the wall to retrieve it. NASCAR called them for a safety violation (the tire) and too many crew members over the wall.
Hamlin sat 23rd with 35 laps to go and the race back under green. He was already back inside the top 10 with 31 laps to go and was inside the top five with 15 laps left.
He finished third.
“It’s just frustrating,” Hamlin said. “We’ve had really fast cars throughout the year – Dover comes to mind and Pocono comes to mind, and this race comes to mind and a bunch of others, but we can’t get a ‘W’ in the column. Hats off to Joe Gibbs Racing for giving me a car that fast and my team for setting it up really good.
“This is a piece of the puzzle you’ve got to have to win races. Everyone’s got to do their job to the best of their ability, and we’re just lacking in one little section of our team that we just can’t hem up.”
Hamlin led a race-high 38 laps alongside Harvick, who went on to win the race, but it was Hamlin leading and looking like the fastest car when the final caution flew on lap 160.
The No. 11 team has been called for 15 pit road penalties through nine of 23 races so far, with Fontana, Martinsville, Kansas, and Road America seeing the team penalized more than once for an infraction.
The penalties range from Hamlin speeding (five times) and driving through too many boxes to mistakes by the team for things like improper fueling, equipment interference, safety violations, and too many men over the wall.
Not included on the list, because it wasn’t called in the race but had consequences afterward, was the wheel that came off Hamlin’s car at Dover. It resulted in a four-race suspension for crew chief Chris Gabehart, jackman Derrell Edwards and tire changer Blake Houston.
Hamlin said he wasn’t sure when asked about adjustments or what needed to be done to fix the issues before the postseason.
“I’m not really sure how you fix it,” he said. “I’m not smart enough to run the department to fix it. I just hope that we make strides and keep getting better. It’s just frustrating because when you have fast cars like [we] had this weekend, there’s just absolutely no excuse for not winning.
“We’re the ones that have to look each other in the face on Monday and figure out how we just keep doing this. Hopefully we can make it constructive and continue to get better, but obviously it’s disappointing.”