By David Morgan, Associate Editor
Denny Hamlin appeared to be well on his way to finally capturing a win at Indianapolis, but once again had the victory snatched from his grasp.
Leading Sunday’s Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 with seven laps to go over eventual winner Kevin Harvick, Hamlin had a comfortable lead as the laps wound down, but heading into Turn 1, the right-front tire let go on his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, sending him hard into the outside wall.
The hit was violent enough to cause flames to billow from underneath his car, but Hamlin was able to exit the car under his own power as he took the mandatory ride to the Infield Care Center, where he was evaluated and released.
Hamlin was looking to become the fourth driver to win both the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 in the same season, but instead leaves Indianapolis with a 28th place finish and now sits 0-for-15 in his pursuit of a win at the storied 2.5-mile track.
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“It’s just tough,” Hamlin said. “I hate it for the FedEx team. We did 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 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.”
While Harvick had been the class of the field for most of the race, Hamlin finally gained the upper hand during a round of green flag pit stops on lap 123 by hitting pit road a lap prior to Harvick and cycling out ahead of him.
When the remaining lead lap cars pitted under caution at lap 132, Hamlin and Harvick were 1-2 on the subsequent restart, with Hamlin getting the jump when the green flag flew and setting sail with the lead. He was able to stay out front for 19 laps until his right-front tire had other plans.
Sunday’s tire issue was not the first for a Joe Gibbs Racing entry as Erik Jones also blew a tire, leading to a hard impact with the Turn 3 wall on lap 74. Other drivers, including Alex Bowman for Hendrick Motorsports and Ryan Newman for Roush-Fenway Racing also had tire issues during the race.