KANSAS CITY, Kansas — Damn that Denny Hamlin luck.
A week after a blown engine with less than 30 laps to go derailed a potential second-place finish, wacky circumstances struck the No. 11 team once again. It was a day, in Hamlin’s words, that was “Terrible.”
[Related: Kevin Harvick wins at Kansas]
On lap 115, Hamlin slowed quickly when he thought he had a right-front tire issue. As the team pitted under caution for Josh Wise’s crash, it discovered the splitter had come apart on the front of the car and needed to be patched back together.
The repairs put Hamlin back in the pack, though he started to make his way forward again … until he hit Brad Keselowski when Keselowski got loose in front of Hamlin on lap 190. The team had to scramble for repairs again, this time to the nose of the car.
And then on lap 225, Hamlin’s team was penalized for an uncontrolled tire on pit road.
“Terrible. I mean just everything went wrong,” Hamlin said. “Just stupid stuff and then penalties when we shouldn’t have them and just another year of the same stuff.”
Somehow he ended up finishing 15th, but thanks to the bad Charlotte finish, Hamlin is 10th in the points standings, six points behind Joey Logano in eighth. He needs to get into the top eight or win at Talladega if he wants to move on in the Chase.
“I’ve got confidence I can win every single week on the race track. It’s just – this is a team sport and you’ve got to have every facet of the car and the team all put together and we’ve just got to execute. I’ve got full confidence we can go to Talladega and win next week and we’ll show that when we get there.”
Despite a bunch of pit road speeding penalties during the regular season, Hamlin’s regular season didn’t have a lot of issues. He finished 30th or worse just four times and entered the Chase on a run of eight-straight top-10 finishes. Did he use up all of his good fortune before the Chase began?
• Take a look at Keselowski’s car. Doesn’t it look like it hit a wall?
It didn’t. Keselowski’s car didn’t hit anything after he made contact with Hamlin. The damage came when his car dug into the infield grass off turn 4.
It’s easy to wonder what Keselowski’s car would look like if Sprint Cup Series cars didn’t have splitters. Those leading edges on the cars help create downforce and stick the cars to the track, but they also act like shovels when a car gets into the grass. Just like what happened to Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Texas in 2014.
The splitter makes it virtually impossible for a car to go through the grass any longer and avoid damage. If there was no splitter — a massive if — Keselowski is able to recover from the spin and possibly get a top-20 finish.
Instead, a fairly simple slide turned into a totaled car. And, possibly, a Chase-eliminating wreck. The Chase’s format isn’t fair. But should the grass monster be playing such a prominent role in deciding who does and doesn’t advance in the Chase?
• Since Hamlin is six points back of eighth and Keselowski is seven, it’s incredibly realistic for either or both of them to advance to the third round of the Chase at Talladega without a win.
It’s a lot less realistic for Chase Elliott. After Elliott led laps in the first half of Sunday’s race, things went south with an issue on the left-rear wheel. A tire rub forced Elliott to pit a second time after he pitted from the lead. But it was apparently more than a simple tire rub. The car wasn’t nearly as fast after that pit stop and an issue at the back of the car eventually put Elliott three laps down after he had to limp to the pits.
Elliott is 12th in the Chase, 25 points behind eighth.
• Richard Petty Motorsports would probably like to hit fast-forward on the rest of the 2016 season.
The wreck dropped Almirola to 27th in the points standings while Scott is currently 34th. If you take the average of their two points positions, it’s set to be the worst season for the team since 2008, when the team was still Petty Enterprises and Bobby Labonte was 21st in the standings.
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