Denny Hamlin ended his streak of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series seasons with at least one win at 12 after he was shut out of Victory Lane in 2018.
Hamlin, who recorded 10 top fives and 17 top 10s and made the playoffs for the 12th time, came close to extending his win streak during the year, most notably in two of the biggest races – the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400.
“Leading on the final restarts of the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400, we were two laps away from winning both of those races and it didn’t happen because the cautions fell really bad for us in both situations, but both of those were super high points,” said Hamlin, who led 22 and 37 laps, respectively, in those events. “We ran extremely well at both of them.”
And while those were two of the high points of Hamlin’s season, the first two races of the playoffs were not. Hamlin finished 32nd at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and then went to his home track Richmond Raceway and finished 16th. The finish was his first outside the top five at the Virginia short track that dates back to his third win there in 2016.
“Going out and finishing 16th was not acceptable, especially in a playoff race,” Hamlin said. “We went there and we tested and to run that poorly was not OK.”
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Hamlin did go on to post three top fives in the final seven races, including two second-place finishes at Dover International Speedway and Martinsville Speedway. He also scored his fourth pole of year in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, which marked his final race with crew chief Mike Wheeler.
“Statistically not our best year for sure,” Hamlin said. “I was kind of excited to see how we ran the last five to six races of the season that kind of gives me a little motivation to get going for 2019. Obviously with some changes with our team and really the entire changes when it comes to the whole rules package.”
Hamlin and Wheeler were paired together for the past three seasons. They combined to win five races, including the 2016 Daytona 500 and 2017 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
“He was a guy that was always working his way up the ladder within JGR, within the engineering program,” Hamlin said. “He’s super smart…a great friend of mine. The spot was always his.
“But obviously it’s a big performance business, and even though if you compare us to other drivers that people think are having a great season and we’re actually having a better season, it’s kind of unfair. You know, that’s just the standards which we have for ourselves.”
Chris Gabehart, who spent the past three seasons as a crew chief in JGR’s Xfinity Series program, will be Hamlin’s crew chief in 2019. Wheeler will join Leavine Family Racing to be Matt DiBenedetto’s crew chief.
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