Denny Hamlin’s pit strategy nearly got him a win in Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
With Kevin Harvick’s domination, Hamlin and crew chief Mike Wheeler employed a strategy that got the Joe Gibbs Racing duo the lead late but ultimately came up short. Impending weather in the area and the threat of rain played into the decision to short pit for the top spot and get off the same strategy as Harvick, but the gamble didn’t pay off as the race went to its full length.
“It panned out good for us, but obviously the caution fell there and we were still up front,” Hamlin explained about the late yellow that flew for Trevor Bayne’s blown engine.
“I think we had about a 10-second gap to the next one and I thought that maybe one other car was going to catch us there, but our long run speed was so good that we felt like we needed to stay out there and have less stops and spend more time on the race track.”
Hamlin has started the year with a pair of third-place finishes but had hoped for more in Atlanta replicating a strategy his team employed last season. Although it didn’t pan out, he’s still proud of the effort and performance.
“I knew that we had really good long run speed,” Hamlin said. “We were short of the 4 (Kevin Harvick) car, but we were probably one of the better cars on long runs. We wanted to optimize our time on the race track similar to what we did in Darlington last year and if a caution fell, great and if it didn’t then we had a pretty good gap there back to third place before the caution fell and the guys that short-pitted, their tires were already starting to fall off and they were in the same second bracket that we were in.
“It was a good strategy at play and happy for our FedEx Ground team to get another top-five, especially here in the home of Coke so it’s awesome to be here and get the season started on a good note.”