Hamlin's Wild Ride Ends With Questions
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on July 27, 2014 | 6:52 P.M. EST
Denny Hamlin finished third in Sunday's Brickyard 400, but NASCAR discovered issues with his car in post-race inspection. (Photo: Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS - The weekend soured by a slow-moving car and their strategy foiled by a fueling foul-up, the sun came out in time for Denny Hamlin. Or so it seemed.
Much like the ever-changing weather Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, so were the emotions for Hamlin and his team on a day they finished third in the Brickyard 400 but face possible penalties after an issue discovered in post-race inspection.
After struggling with the car this weekend, Hamlin and crew chief Darian Grubb employed what proved to be a unique strategy - running until they were low on fuel instead of short-pitting as many others did. That helped Hamlin take the lead twice for 18 laps.
The plan was spoiled when the team failed to get all the fuel in the car during a stop on Lap 90 of the 160-lap race. They failed to get five gallons in because of a fueling issue. Despite having to pit sooner than anticipated, Hamlin charged through the field to score his third consecutive top-10 finish and help put all three Joe Gibbs Racing cars in the top five with Kyle Busch second and Matt Kenseth fourth.
Hamlin was helped by the sun coming out late in the race, which made handling more critical than horsepower and slowed the pace. Just as storms hit the track after the race, the emotions for Hamlin’s team changed when NASCAR announced possible issues with “several rear firewall block-off plates.” NASCAR took those parts back to the R&D Center for further inspection.
Earlier in the day, Hamlin thought he might be celebrating in Victory Lane.
“We had the car to win but just didn’t get it full on that stop,’’ Hamlin said. “Everyone makes mistakes. I’ll tell you, if we had some horsepower, we’d be pretty tough. We need some ponies to run with those guys.’’
They didn’t have it Friday when they were slow or Saturday in qualifying. Hamlin started 27th and bemoaned the team’s woes.
“Definitely wasn't very optimistic going into the day,’’ Hamlin said. “But as the pace slows down, track gets hot, we typically get good. That's when our car really took off.’’
Hamlin admits all the “wacky strategy” during the race by others raised questions.
“Once I saw all these guys pitting and we were not, it was weird because I didn't want to get beat on tires,’’ he said. “But the great thing was is we were running such fast lap times on old tires, we weren't giving up that time. When we put on four tires, we were just mowing through the field. Our strategy worked because our car was fast.
“Another reason the strategies all played out in so many different ways is because you had a tire that didn't wear out that much. Even though it did drop off, which is a good thing, it didn't wear out. So guys were able to stay out and change lefts or rights or four or none. Crew chiefs can do some crazy things when they have those options.’’
Grubb’s might have been good enough to work Sunday had it not been for the fueling issue.