Denny Hamlin had one of the fastest cars in Monday’s Brickyard 400, though coming up just short of his first-career victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Hamlin took the green flag in 10th position for the Brickyard, but proved early on the No. 11 was one of the best cars. While some drivers decided to short pit, Hamlin picked up eight stage points and finished third.
Stage two was much of the same. However, crew chief Mike Wheeler called Hamlin to pit road with race leader Clint Bowyer, three laps prior to end the stage. The duo wanted to earn the playoff point, but didn’t want to risk running out of fuel. The No. 11 finished the stage 20th.
When the final stage began, Hamlin was cycled to the front, while he and Bowyer ran away from the field. Wheeler had Hamlin make his final pit stop three laps before the No. 14 car, allowing the No. 11 to pull away by more than a second when Bowyer exited the pits.
“We executed flawlessly on pit lane, our strategy was good, we had a fast car, just circumstances. Cautions killed us at the end which allowed those guys to go up there,” Hamlin said post-race. “Those meaningless cautions at the end by drivers multiple laps down – what they are doing crashing with a few laps to go, I have no idea. It cost us the race.”
Ultimately, Brad Keselowski and Hamlin bumped and banged with two laps to go to win the Brickyard 400, and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Erik Jones got around the No. 11 car for second. Hamlin took the checkered flag in third position.
“We want to win a race, get some momentum and we deserved to win this race,” Hamlin said. “We had one of the fastest cars. Us and the [No.] 14 were very strong. I hate the cars that caused the cautions had nothing to do with this race.
“All I care about is not winning this race. It’s one that was big on my races that I wanted to win and the team gave me the car that was certainly capable of doing that today. We executed flawlessly on pit lane, our strategy was good [and] we had a fast car.”
Hamlin paced the field for 37 laps, equaling the amount Bowyer spent at the front of the field, which was a race-high. It’s also the most laps he’s led in a race since the sixth race of the season at Martinsville Speedway, where he led a season-high 111 circuits.
This is Hamlin’s third time finishing third in the Brickyard 400, his best outings in 13 career starts at the famed track. The No. 11 team enters the playoffs seeded 13th, with just three playoff points this season.
Hamlin said: “I’m definitely happy with our speed, but it’s hard for me to see any positives right now. I’m hung up on all the negatives of not winning this race and really disappointed from my standpoint. That’s the way it goes sometimes.”