TALLADEGA, Ala. – The roof came open and the bottom fell out. That was Denny Hamlin’s day in a nutshell.
Hamlin was second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings coming into Sunday’s CampingWorld.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, but a disastrous 37th-place finish left him on the outside looking in as the Eliminator Round begins with eight surviving drivers.
The No. 11 FedEx Toyota suffered a fluky mechanical issue early, then was victimized on a last-lap restart when he was caught up in a massive pileup that left Hamlin irate with defending Sprint Cup champ Kevin Harvick.
Harvick had acknowledged before the final restart that he couldn’t get his Chevy up to speed. When Trevor Bayne tried to loop around him, Harvick clipped him, beginning the chain-reaction accident that collected Hamlin.
“I knew the 4 (Harvick) could only run 30-40 miles an hour and he knew he wasn’t going to (advance to the next round) unless a wreck happened,” said Hamlin, standing impatiently outside the infield care center where he was taken after the incident. “I don’t know if he called for it. Everyone’s trying to do everything they can.”
Indeed, had Harvick simply eased to the rear of the field, he likely wouldn’t have had sufficient points to remain in the top eight in the Chase. However, NASCAR vice chairman Mike Helton said after a review of video and conversation with a number of teams, “We believe we did everything procedurally correct and the 4 car did nothing wrong.”
But the quirky mechanical issue and bad communication on the Hamlin team was just as costly. A little more than a third of the way into the race, a problem developed with the escape hatch atop his car.
“I could see daylight coming in,” Hamlin said. “Inside, it didn’t change that much.”
Hamlin pitted and his crew taped down the hatch, which is optional equipment the team has been running “for many years.”
The tape “kept peeling up for some reason,” Hamlin said, and NASCAR ordered the team to come up with a plan to repair the damage. Therein, the miscommunication. He was not ordered to immediately pit, though that wasn’t the message that came through in the cockpit.
“I should not have come in unless they told me I had to come in,” Hamlin said. “Not unless they told me I had to come in. Worse comes to worse, the things flies off and a caution comes out and we fix the hole in the roof.”
After applying levels of tape, the crew ultimately bolted some sheet metal atop the roof.
“It took us four times to get it fixed and that in the end put the nail in the coffin,” Hamlin said.
“There’s nothing I could do different. I’m not going to feel any different being that it wasn’t my fault,” he continued. “We’re going to win and lose as a team. It’s very, very frustrating that it ends on something like that, something as silly as that.”
Mark McCarter – NASCAR Wire Service
Image: Tom Pennington/Getty Images