Denny Hamlin led a race-high 37 laps Monday in search for his first Brickyard 400 win, but was foiled by an untimely caution flag and a late-race surge by eventual winner Brad Keselowski.
Keselowski bruised by Hamlin with a lap and half remaining at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Erik Jones slipped by for second place, leaving the No. 11 Toyota to settle for third place and lament the finish.
Hamlin led the race before a crash between Landon Cassill and Jeffrey Earnhardt near the back of the pack prompted the final caution flag with seven laps left. That tightened the field and allowed Keselowski, who had the benefit of fresher tires, to close in.
Asked what he could have done differently, Hamlin focused his ire toward Cassill and Earnhardt.
“Not have meaningless guys in the back wreck,” Hamlin said. “I don’t know what they’re doing, crashing with a couple laps to go, multiple laps down. Meaningless. Besides that, all those cautions allowed the guys who took tires and saved their strategy allowed them to come back up there and obviously allowed the 2 (Keselowski) to kind of rough us up there at the end. Very unfortunate, but it’s what happens sometimes.”
This one hurt. Hurt bad. Can’t thank my whole team on the road and shop for making this car so fast. Team, pitcrew, CC all were perfect today. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come. Let’s make a run…
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) September 11, 2018
Hamlin made his final pit stop on Lap 126 of the 160-lap event. Keselowski stayed on the track longer before making his last stop for service on Lap 143, giving him fresher tires for the home stretch. The pair of caution periods — one for debris and one for the Cassill-Earnhardt melee — further allowed Keselowski to close the gap.
With two laps to go, Keselowski tracked Hamlin down and the two cars brushed on the backstretch. Keselowski finally got the upper hand as he cleared Hamlin’s car nearing the white flag.
Hamlin enters the playoffs after a winless run through the 26-race regular season. He’ll aim to keep a personal streak going in the postseason; he has won at least one race each year since his rookie season in 2006.
The postseason aims, however, took a back seat to the immediate disappointment late Monday afternoon.
“I don’t even care about the playoffs at this moment. All I care about is not winning this race,” Hamlin said. “It’s one that was big on my list of races I wanted to win and the team gave me the car that was certainly capable of doing that today. Executed flawlessly on pit lane, the strategy was good, had a fast car. Just circumstances. Cautions killed us at the end and allowed those guys to come up there.”