All Denny Hamlin can hope for now is that Sunday used up all his bad luck.
Between an early-race fuel problem and a mid-race wreck, Hamlin’s fortunes couldn’t have gotten any worse in the second race of the Chase. He finished the Sylvania 300 38 laps off the lead and will need a great performance in Dover to avoid being eliminated from Sprint Cup’s playoff system.
All this started in the back deck of his Toyota when the system that gets the gas into the fuel cell failed. It took multiple pit stops to figure out just what was wrong.
“Couldn’t get fuel in it, and that very much set the tone for the rest of our day,” Hamlin said. “Gosh, you just can’t have any mistakes in this three-race deal (the first round of Chase elimination) from the driver, the crew or the team. No one can really make a mistake in three races” and expect to advance.
“No one did. It’s just a mechanical failure that really hasn’t bitten us in a while and it’s untimely …frustrating to say the least.”
And just the beginning of Hamlin’s troubles. Later in the race he pulled up on a wreck, tried to avoid joining in and couldn’t quite brake in time.
“We were five laps down and trying to get some back with wave-arounds, but our tone is pretty much set and I was up on the high line,” Hamlin recalled. “Saw the wreck happen, hit the brakes and got into loose stuff and just couldn’t stop the car at that point.
“It’s disappointing because obviously on performance we’re good enough to move on, but can’t have any mistakes in this three-race deal and unfortunately we have a pretty bad one.”
One that will put Hamlin and his team under major pressure in Dover. Sunday’s 37th-place finish means Hamlin sits 13th among the 16 Chase drivers. The bottom four in the standings after Dover will be eliminated from the race. Two Penske drivers, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, have already advanced by winning the first two Chase races.
So anticipate some pretty aggressive driving by Hamlin in Dover. At this point he has little to lose and might need a top-5 finish to reach the second round. In 17 career starts at Dover Hamlin has three top-fives, never better than fourth.
“You just try to do the best you can to get the best finish and hope for some help,” Hamlin said of Dover. “It’s a long way to go in this race. I hate to say it, but maybe some guys can get in trouble and let us back in. It’s going to be hard for us to (advance) without some help.”