When things aren't going Denny Hamlin's way, he doesn't hide his feelings. He doesn't turn the air blue like Kurt Busch or Dale Earnhardt Jr., and he doesn't chill the temperature in the cockpit with I'm-going-to-fire-you-all sarcasm like Tony Stewart. But when the day turns south for Hamlin, you can hear the shoulder-wilting depression in his voice.
On Sunday at the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 in New Hampshire, Hamlin clearly had the best car in the field, leading 150 of the 301 laps. There was no one among Hamlin's competitors who had enough juice to get within three seconds of him; indeed, it appeared that the only way he could lose would be to beat himself.
And on the last pit call of the race, that's exactly what happened. Hamlin asked for tires, crew chief Darian Grubb ordered a four-tire stop when everyone else took two, and Hamlin went from leading the race to buried in the field.
"Oh, God. Oh, no," Hamlin said when he realized the mistake, and the sadness evident in his voice surely made all his female fans want to give him a hug.
Even so, Hamlin ripped upward through the field and very nearly made a race of it, closing to inside a second behind eventual race winner Kasey Kahne. But clean air ruled the day, and Kahne had enough room (and a caution-free final run) to keep Hamlin well behind him.
How could this happen? Hamlin walked through the process after the race.
"When the caution flies, when pit road opens, that time is so small, your time to communicate, figure out what you're going to do, you really have about 45 seconds to get it," he said. "Between all that, what happened was is Darian asked me, he said how much of the tires he felt like I used up. I said I felt like I used them up a substantial amount. I'd been on the lefts for quite a few laps. So my information to him was, yeah, I've used up the tires. He said, I think two is the call. I said, Okay, just give me tires and no adjustments. He took that as I meant four tires. So it's just that small miscommunication just messed us up a little bit."
In the long run, this won't matter. Hamlin was already a dead-bang lock to make the Chase, and this is the kind of race that's forgotten once September rolls around. Unless Hamlin finishes the year three points or fewer out of first place, the total of bonus points this cost him by not getting a win, this will be little more than an object lesson for both Hamlin and his team.
"Darian was set on taking 2 tires but I told him that I needed tires and he took it as 4," Hamlin said after the race on Twitter. "Still had a hell of a run."
Hamlin and former crew chief Mike Ford famously crossed signals on a pit call at the end of the 2010 season that may well have cost them the Cup, and their relationship never recovered. Hamlin and Grubb have plenty of time to get past this one ... but we'd bet everybody knows exactly how many tires are going on the car every time down pit road from here on out.
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