Hamlin Comes Up Short at Sonoma

Photo Credit: Sal Sigala Jr.

Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Cares Toyota, finished the Toyota Save/Mart 300 at Sonoma Raceway in second position. 

As the laps were winding down, Hamlin had a shot at winning the race, including leading the race after taking the top spot off of Turn 7 on the final lap.  However, going into the final turn, Tony Stewart was able to make the pass to win the race.  The pass was one that wasn’t expected.

“I don’t know, I thought I had just missed the corner more than – I should have not leave the bottom open,” Hamlin stated.  “ I thought if I leave the bottom open maybe he will think he can get there in a different kind of way. I just overshot the corner a little bit. Still a pretty good day. This is definitely a step in the right direction on the road course, but man utterly disappointed.”

After playing strategy during the middle portion of the event, it looked as though the Chesterfield, Virginia native could be headed to his first win following a battle with teammate Kyle Busch with approximately 50 laps to go. However, he fell behind in the third spot with 18 laps to go after Stewart played some strategy and Martin Truex Jr. passed him on the restart. 

“It was, it really was,” Hamlin quoted.  “Heck of a battle with all my Toyota teammates. Just lost the handle there at the end a little bit. It cost us the win, but who knows. It was a great day. Better than what we expected going into it.”

The Daytona 500 Champion notes the mistake Stewart made going into turn seven allowed him to get close.

“Overall we had a great FedEx Cares Camry,” Hamlin stated.   “I don’t know how to replay that last lap differently. He made mistakes that allowed me to get there and get position. I made a mistake at the end to get the lead and get position and I made a mistake to give up the lead on the last corner. Just one of those deals. You’d like to be on the winning end of this, but unfortunately we were not on that end.

“Just run slower through turn 11 would be about the only thing I could do differently. Just run slower through there and force him to go on the high side. I just had a feeling he was going to drive in there and turn us around anyway, so I was trying to do all I could.”

The American driver credits Stewart for doing a great job managing his tires, as well as running consistent laps during the race.

“Really he gave me an opportunity to get close,” Hamlin added.  “On the second to last lap he wheel hopped into (turn) seven, allowed us to get close and I just did a poor job of getting through 11. I was expecting to really drive in deep and I really thought that was going to happen and he did, but I also left the bottom open and that was a bad mistake on my part. Still a great race. I was proud of the FedEx Cares Toyota team for giving me a car that could win. We’ll take this and go with it.”

The Veteran driver explains on the last lap, he was looking rearview – not looking out front.  Unfortunately, it resulted in him wheel hopping going into the final corner. He knew that once Stewart had the inside position, they were going to drag race it to the end – if Stewart didn’t make contact and put him in the wall. With the Chase format being win and you’re in, he knew Stewart was going to do whatever it took to win.

“All is fair in love and war,” Hamlin exclaimed!