Denny Hamlin was content with his performance, his third-place finish, and the fact that his NASCAR Cup Series postseason was over after Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway.
“I didn’t need much more … The No. 12 (Ryan Blaney) was just a little better than what we were today,” Hamlin said. “That’s just the fact of it. If you told me I was guaranteed to have the second-best car, I would have taken it and finished top three in all the stages and end of the race.
“That’s a really good showing. Ultimately, our fate was sealed when that powering steering belt came off last week.”
Hamlin won the first stage, finished second in the second stage and led a race-high 156 laps. The. No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota averaged a third-place running position throughout 500 laps, and Hamlin said he was “really happy” with the team’s performance.
“I don’t think we were going to have anything in our toolbox during pit stops to be as fast as the No. 12 on the long run,” Hamlin said.
Blaney drove from 13th to the win when the race restarted for the final time on lap 333. In doing so, he overtook Hamlin, who had restarted in front of him. The two were buried in the field for the last stint when seven drivers came off pit road in front of them on varying tire and fuel strategies. Chase Elliott stayed on track to inherit the race lead.
Hamlin didn’t blame the loss of track position on coming up short.
“We were [far back], but you could argue the No. 12, he drove up there, right?” Hamlin said. “You don’t want to douse or throw dirt on the fact that he drove up from the same spot I was at, passed us, and then drove all the way to the lead to win, so he definitely had the best car.
“We were next in line. I just wouldn’t do anything different. There’s nothing I could have done, I feel like, through these playoffs to be any different, and then on a day when we had to have a phenomenal day, we did. Just it wasn’t good enough because we were in such a hole last week.”
Hamlin started the postseason from the No. 3 seed with two victories. A third victory came at Bristol Motor Speedway. In nine postseason races, Hamlin had an average finish of 13th.
In the Round of 8, he finished 10th in Las Vegas and 30th at Homestead-Miami Speedway after a power steering failure. It forced him below the cutline by 17 points going into Martinsville Speedway.
“We didn’t fall short on performance,” Hamlin said of not advancing to the championship round for the second straight year. “We performed fine, but luck is a factor in this sport, and when you take small sample sizes to crown champions, sometimes, if the luck doesn’t fall your way, you’re going to be left out.
“It just seems like I’ve just been unlucky in the playoffs. I can’t remember too many years where it was, ‘Oh, we’re not good enough to be in the final four.’ There have been a few years, but not that many. We’re probably fifth in points now, probably going to finish five straight years in the top five. God, we’re doing great. I couldn’t be with a better team. It’s just I keep crapping out.”