Denny Hamlin is tired of being close.
But once again ‘close’ is what he’ll remain to his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.
It will be almost a bittersweet moment in Sunday’s Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway when Hamlin leads the field to the green-flag since he will not be in contention to win his first series title.
Hamlin was eliminated from title contention in last weekend’s race at Phoenix Raceway, despite putting on one of his strongest performances of his career during the 10-race playoffs.
“I’ve been here before, you know what I mean? I’ve been doing this for 12 years, and it’s always close, close, close, close, never there,” Hamlin said Friday after winning the pole for Sunday’s race. “I feel like, when we have to really perform well, we really, really do, and sometimes circumstances take you out of the playoffs.
“I’ve had roof hatches fly open. I’ve had running out of gas. Everything you can imagine bad luck-wise. Sometimes, like this year, it was not bad luck. It was driver mistake and things like that.
“So, we all share in it, but I’m comfortable in feeling that eventually we’re going to have our time. Eventually we’ll win our championship, and when we do, it will probably mean that much more.”
How his title shot slipped away
Although he won just twice in the regular season, Hamlin still appeared to be in a strong position to contend for the series title if he had advanced to the Championship 4.
Since a broken axle left him with a 35th-place finish at Dover, Del., Hamlin had put together a run of five consecutive races of finishing no worse than seventh.
Unfortunately, a heated on-track battle with Chase Elliott for second place at Phoenix last Sunday left Hamlin with a tire rub that eventually led to a blown tire and knocked out of the title hunt.
Coming right back this week to claim the pole by knocking off title favorite Martin Truex Jr. provided mixed emotions.
“There’s half-satisfaction. Half of it is disappointment because you only run this good for so long. I mean, I feel like we timed out the playoffs really, really well,” he said.
“We performed great over the last three or four races, better than probably any stretch of my career that we’ve performed for that consecutive amount of weeks. But we don't have our chance. We’re not part of the final four.
“So, I think there’s a little bit of satisfaction proving that you should be here with a chance, but it’s also a little disheartening that you’re not.”