News & Media

Hamlin facing huge deficit after first Chase race

September 19, 2011, David Caraviello,

JOLIET, Ill. -- Denny Hamlin parked his No. 11 car in the garage area at Chicagoland Speedway, climbed out, and started walking. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver didn't talk to the media after his miserable experience in Monday's opening Chase race, but his silence spoke for him.

"You don't have a choice. You show up every week and race as hard as you can."


It was another frustrating day for last season's championship runner-up, who overcame a series of mechanical issues and incidents just to qualify for this year's Chase, only to see his hopes take a catastrophic blow in the rain-delayed event at Chicagoland. Hamlin fell off the lead lap after pitting for a vibration early in the race, and then was buried late when contact with Greg Biffle cut down his left-front tire. The sum of the damage was ugly -- a 31st-place finish that put him last among the 12 title contenders, and 41 points behind new series leader Kevin Harvick.

Under NASCAR's new points system, that deficit places Hamlin nearly a full race back. Even 11th-place Jeff Gordon is a distant 16 points ahead of him. For Hamlin, getting back into title contention is going to be a slog -- if it's even possible at all. No wonder he didn't feel like talking when he got out of the car.

Crew chief Mike Ford summed up Monday's events for his driver. "In a word, it was a [crappy] day," Ford said. "Everybody didn't execute. End of story."

Hamlin was in a hole from the very beginning Monday thanks to his 27th-place starting spot, but he was up to 20th and making progress when he came on the radio on Lap 78 to let his crew know he was feeling a vibration in the car. The field had pitted a few laps earlier under a debris caution, and Hamlin felt one of his wheels had been left loose.

"I'm going to have to come in," he said over the radio. "I'm just trying to buy a few laps."

Hamlin went to the pits for a four tire change, and came out 37th. He worked hard to try and put himself in position for the free pass, getting as close as the second driver a lap down on occasion, but then he made contact with Biffle on a restart and cut down his left-front tire. The shredded rubber also mangled his left-side wheel well, and Hamlin was never a factor again.

"We basically cut our tire down and tore the car up a little bit," Ford said. "It was junk from that point."

Hamlin's championship hopes may be in a similar condition after Monday. Can the No. 11 team rebound beginning next weekend in New Hampshire? "You don't have a choice," Ford said. "You don't have a choice. You show up every week and race as hard as you can."