Denny Hamlin looked poised to overcome two pit-road speeding penalties in Sunday's TUMS Fast Relief 500 and keep himself in the thick of Chase contention. Well, until the master switch on his car failed.
With just over 100 laps to go while running third, Hamlin's car started stuttering on the frontstretch, and he radioed to the crew that the gauges were flashing different colors. The car refired, and Hamlin was able to continue at speed while only losing five spots. But that was a brief salvation, and the car starting sputtering again just after Hamlin would hit the accelerator exiting the corners.
Soon, Hamlin was in danger of losing a lap to leader Clint Bowyer. Then he was able to maintain race pace for a few brief moments. And then the car started slowing again. This time, so much that he was told by NASCAR he wasn't meeting minimum speed just before he stopped on the track to bring out a caution flag.
"It ended in disappointment," Hamlin said. "We overcame the pit road penalties, things like that. Just had a great car. When these things happen, you just got to suck it up and move on. There's nothing I can do about it."
"One of these days it's going to be our time. It's just not right now."
After going to the garage for repairs, Hamlin ended up finishing 33rd and is now in fifth place in the points standings, 49 points behind Johnson.
Hamlin's car was so good, much like the car he had at New Hampshire, that after each penalty, he quickly made his way back through the field each time, including gaining 18 spots in 42 laps after the first penalty. On the penalties, Hamlin said this:
"I was doing what the crew chief (Darian Grubb) said. I don't know if that's the right thing as far as NASCAR is concerned," Hamlin said. "They assured me there was no way the speed on entry with the timing lines, there's a little bit of underestimation on how quick these cars can launch when you do take off."
"I think there was something more to that than what we thought. Nothing we couldn't overcome. We still drove our tails right back up to the front twice, passed the 48 car about three times, four times. It sucks it's got to end this way. Just got to suck it up and move on."
Who's up: That's Clint Bowyer, who is now third in the points standings, 26 points behind Johnson and 24 behind Keselowski. And it's also Kasey Kahne too, who is 29 points behind Johnson. Honorable mention goes to Jeff Gordon for moving up to 6th in the standings, but he's 54 points back.
Who's down and out: Yeah, it's you Denny. And anyone below you in the points standings. This is now, for all intents and purposes, a duel between Johnson and Keselowski with Bowyer and Kahne on the periphery. Everyone else is just fighting to be introduced later (or even at all) at the Sprint Cup Series banquet.