HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Story by Race Chaser Online Mid-Atlantic Correspondent Marshall Gabell – Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images North America photo –
In 2010 it was a crash on Lap 25 in the season finale at Homestead that would cost Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin his 33-point advantage over Jimmie Johnson and his first-career Sprint Cup Series championship.
In 2014 it was a decision to stay on the racetrack with 19 laps remaining that would force Hamlin to relinquish another championship, this time to Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick.
“I loved our chances (this season),” Hamlin explained in the media center following the race. “This is a little bit different then 2010 as we had an early incident then and it kind of damaged our car enough to where we couldn’t overcome that throughout the day. Today, strategy was part of winning, and the strategy for us didn’t work out with when the cautions happened.”
Hamlin was left on the racetrack with worn out tires after crew chief Darian Grubb called an audible to keep the Chesterfield, Virginia racer on the track during the caution – something that would come back to bite them as their championship rival Harvick took on four fresh tires before the finish.
“I gave up a position to Harvick there with 20-some laps to go, and Darian (Grubb) tried to make a call to make that back up and leave us out there on tires, and obviously we were sitting ducks as long as cautions kept coming,” Hamlin admitted. “We were able to jump out and get the lead, you know, had a decent lead, and just the cautions didn’t go our way.”
On scuffed tires Hamlin would conclude his championship bid with a seventh place finish — third in the points standings — after his fellow title contenders Harvick and Ryan Newman flew past him with less then 15 laps remaining.
“There’s not one thing I would have done different,” Hamlin stated. “We brought a car that was capable of winning. I just don’t know how to express it enough. Sometimes breaks go your way, sometimes they don’t. They just didn’t go our way. I wouldn’t do a thing different. I think we overachieved greatly by being here. We just came up short.”
Hamlin was still very impressed with how his team was able to overachieve some expectations, earning his second-best finish in the points standings (third). The effort is something Hamlin says he will cherish now that he has experienced a few seasons without being involved in the championship battle come Homestead.
“You know, this is the third time around that I’ve had an opportunity to win a championship,” Hamlin expressed. “But each one has been different, and this has by far been our best effort as far as going out there and trying to get it done. We had a car that was capable of winning today. We know that. Our effort was 100 percent. It’s just that the breaks didn’t quite work out for us.”
“Like I say, the race goes green, maybe things are — probably are a lot different. But it’s a part of racing, and you can’t predict those things. I’m proud of what we– the effort we put forth after the year we’ve had.”