By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
It appeared that Denny Hamlin’s 500th Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start was going to be a picture perfect afternoon. Instead, he settles for a rather underwhelming fifth-place in Sunday’s Drydene 400 at Dover International Speedway after leading 218 of 400 laps.
The pole sitter owned the competition that included a Stage 1 victory and having a commanding lead over his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex, Jr. Then a dream day turned awry in the closing laps of Stage 2.
It began when Hamlin struggled dealing with lapped traffic. Among those a multiple laps down was Joey Logano, who was 24 laps down after repairing broken rear end axle before the start of the 400-lap contest.
Logano became a chore for both JGR teammates, but the one who ended up with the shortest straw was Hamlin, who lost the lead to Truex on Lap 229. Not only Hamlin lost the lead, he lost second to Kyle Larson shortly thereafter as Truex ended up winning Stage 2.
According to Fronstretch writer Davey Segal, Hamlin was livid at the way Logano raced him and doesn’t understand why he had to race him hard when he was nowhere near in contention for the win.
“When it’s not your day and you’re 20 something laps down, you are not going to make those positions up,” Hamlin said. “It ain’t going to make one position difference at any point of the race, and it didn’t.”
Hamlin added that rather calling Logano an idiot, instead he’s frustrated that he was fighting for nothing while he and Truex were going for max points.
“I get it, everyone races hard. If you’re one lap down I even get it. Or if you’re two, but not 24. That frustrates me because it’s just a lack of philosophy that I don’t understand,” Hamlin said. “All he did was piss some people off and what did he really gain? He didn’t gain anything. But he just pissed off some guys he’s racing with.
“So now we’re going to race him extra hard for what? The reason that he didn’t want to go 26 laps down? Anybody would tell you that’s just not a good choice.”
Logano, who returned to the track on Lap 23 and finished 34th, defended his case by saying his No. 22 Pennzoil Ford Mustang was still putting up solid lap times compared to the cars who were 1-2 laps down.
“The situation was that I had about four or five cars that it was possible for me to catch, which is five points. You tell me if it is worth it. I would say it is worth it and I have to go,” Logano said. “I have to try to get those spots if I can get them. If some of those cars that were that slow out there and were going to be 20-something laps down, the pace we were running we were going to be within a lap or two of them. I had to race hard. I had to keep going.”
Heading into the final stage, an excellent pit stop by the No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota Camry got him out in second and restarted alongside Larson to set up the final stage.
However, Larson got going and cleared the Virginian as it was no looking back for the Californian, who snapped a 75-race winless streak and moves onto the Round of 8.
Hamlin’s main concern for the remainder of the race shifted to how long can his Camry last after reporting his car was on the verge of blowing up after missing a shift on the restart.
“The car changed tones and lost a little power, but it’s next year’s motor which is not concerning any more this year,” Hamlin on his engine concerns. “Certainly, I was concerned that we weren’t going to make it.”
Fortunately, the car didn’t fail but completely faded from the race win picture and only salvaged a measly fifth for his 15th top-five of the season.
It also marked the third time in his career Hamlin has scored 15 top-fives, which is the most he’s ever had in a single season with the other two taking place in 2009 and 2017.
Despite not leaving the “Monster Mile” with the golden trophy to commemorate the 100th Cup race at Dover, Hamlin accepted the top-five as he’s yet to win at the mile-long circuit.
“We lost control of the race and the track got tighter. There were no cautions to pick up the rubber,” Hamlin on the additional struggles he dealt with in the final stage. “We just got tight. Once we lost control – lost the clean air – it was so difficult to pass. I needed to be up front with as tight as my car was, so I just lost the lead and backpedaled from there. Top-five, this track, I’ll take it every week.”
With Dover out of the way, Hamlin will head into next Sunday’s 1000bulbs.com500 at Talladega Superspeedway third in points, 48 markers to the good of the cutoff line.