Denny Hamlin led 31 laps at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 6 and appeared to be on his way to his first top 10 finish of the Cup Series season. However, a self-inflicted mechanical problem ended his day early and led to heated comments from the driver of the #11 Toyota Camry TRD.
Hamlin tweeted the message on March 6 after the No. 11 stalled on pit road. Green-flag pit stops were underway as drivers fueled up and got new tires for the final dash to the checkered flag, but the veteran driver pulled out the warning flag after accidentally downshifting and making a head to tail. He was pushed back to his pit where he tried to operate one of the gears, but the mechanical problem ended his day.
“We broke the transaxle”, Hamlin told FOX Sports’ Jamie Little after coming out of No 11. “I just killed all the gears when I left pit road. We had the best car today, but we just got back into it and we were moving forward and made some mistakes.
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The stall on the track and the broken transaxle weren’t the only issues that hampered Hamlin’s day. The No.11 also pinned the front air hose and extended the length by a pit stop.
Despite the issues, Hamlin still got points in the first two stages and passed Bowman and Ryan Blaney for the lead after clearing three points in one of the corners. He just couldn’t finish the race in a production car that had the pace to fight for a win.
The 2 DNFs remain an outlier for Hamlin
With Hamlin failing to finish two of the first three races, he finds himself in relatively uncharted territory. He never started a season with more than one DNF in the first 10 weeks, but he faced new issues with the Gen 7 era.
Hamlin spent the vast majority of his Cup Series career avoiding mishaps and mechanical issues, which led to just 45 DNFs in 581 career starts (7.745%). With 46 wins, Hamlin actually won more than he left the track early.
This consistency streak includes the 2019 and 2020 seasons where Hamlin had two DNFs combined, as well as a 2021 season where he finished every race and reached the championship four.
Hamlin actually predicted an increase in on-track incidents towards the end of the 2021 season. He joined Twitter’s racing spaces in September and explained that there are major differences between Gen 6 and Gen 7 cars in the way they shift and drive. He also noted that he could not see with the lower seats and had concerns about going to Martinsville with the new cars.
This thing is an entirely different machine,” Hamlin said, quote courtesy of Cassie Fambro. “There will definitely be more wrecks, there’s no doubt about that.”
Hamlin must win a lot of points
The season has only three races, but Hamlin is at a disadvantage in the championship standings. He’s 30th overall with 38 points, 75 behind Kyle Larson and tied with teammate Christopher Bell.
This placement is a major change from previous seasons given that Hamlin kicked off his 2019 and 2020 seasons with wins at the Daytona 500. He didn’t win in 2021 before the playoffs began, but he was the driver more regular. He had the No. 1 spot in the standings until Chase Briscoe spun him at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on August 15, dropped him to a 23rd place finish, and gave Larson control of the standings.
Based on Hamlin’s history of consistency in NASCAR, it’s unlikely he’ll stay buried in the standings. He will begin to make progress on the track while vying for wins again, starting with a return to Phoenix Raceway on March 13. Hamlin has two career wins on the one-mile track, as well as a 10.5 average.
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