Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Toyota, is involved in an incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono Raceway on Aug 4, 2013 in Long Pond, Pa.
Plenty of drivers have suffered through disappointing 2013 seasons, but none more than Denny Hamlin, who came into the season having never once missed the Chase for the Sprint Cup since going full-time in 2006.
Hamlin, who missed four weeks of the 2013 season with a fractured vertebra suffered in a last-lap crash at Auto Club Speedway with former teammate Joey Logano in March, had maintained all along that he would come back and make the Chase.
Guess what? Ain’t happening.
In his first two complete races back behind the wheel of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Hamlin finished second at Darlington and fourth in the Coca-Cola 600, both in May. Since then, though, his season has been awful.
In the last nine races, Hamlin’s average finish is 27.556, compared to 26.000 for Danica Patrick during the same period.
Things hit rock-bottom Sunday at Pocono Raceway, a track where Hamlin has four career victories and eight top-five finishes in 16 starts.
Hamlin spun out by himself on Lap 15 and finished 43rd, his third accident-related DNF in the last five races.
"Well, we’ve just got to work on our setups,” said Hamlin. “I think me and Darian (Grubb, crew chief) just got to get our setups where it’s drivable again. Lately it’s just not been good. It’s been a handful. We’ve been qualifying okay, but as soon as we get in traffic and the race starts we go dead backwards and loose. So, we’ve been fighting that a lot. Just very frustrating season. A lot of it is us — we’re working some different things. We’re kind of outside of our normal box of setups and so we’re trying to get better for next year, but obviously we need some track time to do that.”
And Hamlin bristled at a suggestion by SPEED analyst Kyle Petty that he should step out of the No. 11 JGR Toyota and heal up for the remainder of 2013.
“He’s not relevant to the sport right now as far as the Chase and what’s going on in the Chase and winning the championship,” Petty said of Hamlin on NASCAR RaceDay Sunday morning. “He can win the next four or five races, but it’s not going to change the championship this year, and it’s not going to change the Chase. It is what it is and he needs to focus on next year, get his body back together and come back and have a shot at winning next year.”
“Kyle Petty is a moron,” Hamlin Tweeted, going on to lash out at Petty for allegedly not spending enough time in the garage.
Regardless of how you feel about who’s right and who’s wrong, there’s no question it’s been a frustrating year for a driver used to performing at a championship level who’s not there now.