By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
CONCORD, N.C. – In a race where most of your competition is up front the entire day, a driver needs a strong finish, and one driver who got just that is Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin. Hamlin’s No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota Camry was a fixture inside the top-10 the entire race for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Hamlin, the polesitter for the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway finished fourth after running just outside the top-five for much of the day. In a questionable move with the possibility weather in the area, Hamlin’s crew chief, Michael Wheeler, left him on track as long as possible during a round of green flag pit stops. Although he led several laps, the strategy did not work out and Hamlin lost seven seconds to race leader, and eventual winner, Martin Truex, Jr.
Multiple times throughout the race, Hamlin found himself in the middle of three-wide situations. Some were of his own doing after he struggled to get going on restarts. Others, however, took place when Hamlin and his Playoff competitors battled in and around lap traffic. Despite the battles, Hamlin kept his nose clean and found himself sixth at the end of both stages.
Hamlin admitted that his team just didn’t have the speed at Charlotte,
“Definitely pit crew did a phenomenal job. Number one pit stall was big for us as well. It’s just, you know Charlotte on restarts, having a car fast enough to kind of make moves. We were decent in the long run, but you know still – not as fast as what we needed to be short or long.”
This was Hamlin’s 13th top-five and 17th top-10 this season. The finish moves Hamlin up from seventh to fifth in the Playoff Standings, 13-points ahead of the cutoff for the Round of Eight, held by his teammate, Matt Kenseth.
Now Hamlin, Wheeler, and the entire No. 11 team will have to attempt the feat of winning the Talladega Playoff race, or at the very least, survive the chaos.