By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
Entering the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, Jimmie Johnson was the only driver locked into the Championship Round at Homestead-Miami Speedway. One driver that was hoping to earn his own guaranteed shot at a Championship was Denny Hamlin.
As the cars were unloaded at the beginning of the race weekend, Hamlin had just a six-point gap over the Chase cut-off.
In the first practice, Hamlin was 15th fastest. He was then mired back on the speed charts in the second practice, placing his No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota Camry 33rd. In the final practice, Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing team improved to 18th on the charts.
Qualifying was disappointing for Hamlin as he could only put his car 17th on the starting grid.
The race started under a green-yellow condition after a lengthy rain delay.
The race finally went green after six laps of yellow. Hamlin quickly moved forward. By the time the competition caution waved on lap 30, he had just cracked the Top 10. During the ensuing pit stops, Hamlin slipped back to 16th.
After the restart, Hamlin slowly moved forward. He hovered just outside the Top 10 when a round of green flag pit stops began around lap 74. During the exchange, Hamlin was able to lead a lap and gain a bonus point.
After the pit stops cycled through, Hamlin found himself in 14th. Hamlin would bounce between the 14th and 10th positions over the next 150 laps.
Late in the race, the threat of weather became the main concern. Just a few laps after Hamlin broke into the Top 10 for the fifth time in the race, the skies opened up. Under the caution, Jimmie Johnson, among others elected to hit pit road in the hopes that the race would restart.
The rain got heavier, and NASCAR chose to bring the field onto pit road. A few minutes later, race leader, and Hamlin’s teammate, Carl Edwards was declared the winner, as the race was official. Hamlin was scored ninth when the race ended.
Hamlin now sits sixth in points, just two points below the Chase cut-off.
After the race, Hamlin was frustrated with a ninth place finish.
“We were not terrible, but not good. I thought we had a better car at times. We just had a tough deal on restarts. We were always in the top line. We got blocked in on pit road just about every time. That cost us a few spots as well. That just made it a tough day with track position. I think if we could have gained a couple spots we would have been fine.”
“It was still a decent day for our FedEx Office team, our Camrys were good. Carl (Edwards) got the win for JGR, which was good. We’ll go to Phoenix and try to get a win there.”
Hamlin has the 10th best average finish among active drivers in the last five races at Phoenix International Raceway. Kevin Harvick has the best driver average at Texas in the last five races with an average finish of 1.20.
Hamlin has a career average finish of 11.05 at Texas in 22-career starts. He has one win, 10-career top fives at Phoenix and 12-career Top 10s. Hamlin has led a total of 441 laps at Phoenix.
In the last five races at Phoenix, Hamlin has an average finish of 11.60 with an average driver rating of 85.2. During this five-race span, Hamlin has two top fives and three Top 10s.
Based on these statistics, Hamlin will have his work cut out for him heading into the Can-Am 500(k) as he tries to secure his position out of the two remaining positions to the Championship Four at Homestead-Miami Speedway.