Hamlin left with disappointment
Denny Hamlin was still despondent after the Ford 400.
As Jimmie Johnson’s NASCAR Sprint Cup championship celebration replayed on the monitor, Hamlin, who finished 14th in the season finale — 12 positions behind Johnson's No. 48 team — just stared into the distance.
How did he go from points leader to loser in just over three hours?
Before the race began, Hamlin radioed, “Let’s make this a memorable day.”
While Johnson remained tremendously cool throughout the afternoon, the pressure overcame Hamlin. Admittedly, his 37th-place qualifying effort proved disastrous. Twenty-four laps into the race, he slid up into the Greg Biffle, then went on a wild ride through the backstretch grass that damaged his splitter.
“We tried to patch it and work on it the best we could but it just wasn’t the car that it was at the beginning,” Hamlin said. “It’s just part of racing.”
With 168 laps to go, crew chief Mike Ford did his best to keep Hamlin focused. On Johnson's radio, crew chief Chad Knaus was cheering his driver to a fifth consecutive title.
Kevin Harvick’s demeanor was quite different as he sat next to Hamlin during the postrace interviews at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Harvick finished a solid third in both the race and the Chase for the Sprint Cup on Sunday, but he was still steaming from a pit-road speeding that knocked him from the lead to 29th earlier in the race.
“I don’t think that penalty will ever settle in my stomach,” Harvick said. “When you read me off of my pit road times of 49.6, 49.4, 50.8 and then 49.6 and there’s only a handful of people that get to see them, I won’t ever settle for that.
“I don’t know how you can be speeding when you’re on the bumper (of Martin Truex Jr.'s car) in front of you if the other guy is not speeding.”
Unlike Hamlin, Harvick had a car capable of winning throughout the race on Sunday. He finished 41 points behind Johnson, but Hamlin nipped Harvick by just two points in the final tally. Even after he collided with Kyle Busch on the frontstretch with 25 laps remaining in the race, Harvick was still a contender.
“As far as (Busch) incident, he raced me like a clown all day,” Harvick said. “Three wide, on the back bumper, running into me, and I just had enough.
“Sounds like the way your teammates raced me all day,” Hamlin replied.
“I just parked yours,” Harvick answered.
With Harvick’s average finish of 5.8 in the Chase, had the team capitalized on bonus points in the final 10 races (he led laps in just five events) the season could have had a different ending.
Still, it’s hard not to reflect on the incident between Harvick and Hamlin during practice at Dover International Speedway earlier in the Chase. After Clint Bowyer was penalized for an infraction on his race-winning car in the opening Chase race, Hamlin delivered a verbal shot at Richard Childress Racing on Friday at Dover. Harvick defended his company’s honor during practice on Saturday by retaliating against Hamlin in practice.
Consequently, both teams spent precious practice time repairing
their cars while Johnson and Knaus watched in disbelief.
That Sunday at Dover, Johnson went on to win the race.
Sunday at Homestead, Johnson went on to win the championship.