Hamlin Finishes Fifth in Season Finale at Homestead
Z-Line Designs Driver Notches 41st Top-Five in 128 Career Nationwide Series Starts
Denny Hamlin drove the No. 18 Z-Line Designs/BJ’s Wholesale Club Toyota Camry (JGR) to a solid fifth-place finish in Saturday’s season-ending Ford 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Hamlin had a top-five car throughout the 200-lap contest. A late-race chassis adjustment designed to allow the Z-Line Designs Camry to challenge for the win proved to make the car too tight around the 1.5-mile oval. Despite running as high as third with 20 laps to go, Hamlin fought his tight-handling racecar as much as the other drivers around him.
“We just struggled with our Z-Line Designs Toyota,” said Hamlin after recording his 41st top-five finish in 128 career Nationwide Series starts. “We felt like we had a fifth- to seventh-place car for most of the day. It’s kind of where we ended up. The pit crew did an amazing job of at least giving me a shot at it there at the end. We just couldn’t hang on. We just didn’t have the car for it today.”
With Friday’s practice sessions getting partially rained out, teams had limited track time before the race.
“I wish we had some more practice time,” Hamlin added. “We just didn’t get enough track time with this car this weekend. We struggled. We struggled all day and just could not get the speed out of it that we needed. We ended up fifth.”
“I felt like we were just a top-five car all night and we had made adjustments and made it better, and then we had made adjustments and had made it worse,” said crew chief Jason Ratcliff. “We just kept bouncing back-and-forth on it and the track was changing and we weren’t keeping up with it. I just felt like we had one shot at it. We had one shot at it and a small adjustment was not going to get it done. Unfortunately, I went too far. And with what little experience I have working with Denny, I didn’t really know how to quantify what he needed. He did a nice job of communicating all night, and I think right there at the end, the track probably didn’t change as much as it had prior and we just jumped the fence.”
Also on the fence was a fourth consecutive owner championship for JGR. The No. 18 team came into Homestead just one point behind the No. 60 team of Roush Fenway Racing. But the No. 60 Ford, piloted by Carl Edwards, finished second to end the season with a three-point advantage over the No. 18 team.
“It’s tough knowing that you are this close to it and you miss it because we’ve won the last three owners titles and its fun,” Ratcliff said. “That’s why we do this. But on a side note, we have a lot to be thankful for. We’ve been extremely blessed with a great season. To race Carl Edwards – the guy who could potentially be the Sprint Cup champion – he’s got a really good race team and to have a shot to compete with him for a championship, that’s a pretty big deal. I’m pretty excited that we finished that close to him and had a shot. I wish we could’ve done that stop one last time, but we’ll learn from it and be back next year to try and do it again.”
Brad Keselowski won the Ford 300 to score his 17th career Nationwide Series victory, his fifth of the season and his first at Homestead.
This year’s Nationwide Series driver champion, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished .268 of a second behind Keselowski in the runner-up spot, while Edwards, Clint Bowyer and Hamlin rounded out the top-five. Elliott Sadler, Sam Hornish Jr., Aric Almirola and JGR teammates Brian Scott and Joey Logano comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were nine caution periods for 36 laps, with 12 drivers failing to finish.