When Denny Hamlin spun on lap two, it seemed as though his day was over. However, a timely question mid-race to get him back on the lead lap and a strategy play at the end would result in the driver of the No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota making it to victory lane.
“It feels great, obviously. This is a great day for us. We obviously came back from adversity and did a lot of great things throughout the day, with the exception of lap two,” Hamlin commented. “I tell you, it’s just amazing that we were able to come back the way we were and do the things that we were able to do. I knew we had a really fast car. I didn’t think starting in the second row with old tires we were going to have a chance. But the opportunity came in turn one to make a move, and we capitalized and our car took off.”
While making his way from the back of the field, Hamlin would spin, bringing forth the first caution of the day. He would then go down a lap after driving the car slowly around the track to not cause a flat tire and sheet metal damage. When Hamlin went a lap down, crew chief Dave Rogers stayed composed, telling Hamlin that he had a rocket ship and would be able to get back to the front of the field. Rogers said in the media center that he truly believed in those words, based on what he saw in practice on Saturday.
“I think the minute you tell yourself you can’t win or you’re just trying to get a top 10, then that’s probably all you’re going to get,” he added. “The way Denny was moving up through traffic, I knew last year Brad won the race, he started in the mid 20s. Denny finished sixth, I believe, and started 27th. So I knew last year people came from deep in the field and contended for the win. So I knew it was possible.
“And we spun because he was going. He had a fast racecar and he was trying to make something happen and got in the back of slower cars. So I knew he had speed. I have a lot of faith in that driver. He can do some crazy things.”
Hamlin, meanwhile, said that he had the number seven in his head, feeling that if they could get back to seventh, it would be a great comeback for them.
Hamlin would spend most of the race a lap down, though was able to get back on the lead lap by taking the wave around at lap 117. Hamlin admitted post-race that he thought they would’ve been able to get back on the lead lap sooner, using that reasoning for why he took the approach post-spin that he took. Despite getting back on the lead lap later than expected, he remained calm saying that “calmness allows you to make better decisions, and we made great decisions by the end of the day”. It worked out in his favor, as Roger predicted, as Hamlin would then battle his way back to the front.
The caution would then fly with three laps to go and while most of the leaders pitted, Hamlin was one of the three that stayed out. The decision was left up to Hamlin originally as to whether to pit or not, and he felt that staying out would work as track position would be key. His spotter did tell him to pit, though, but because Hamlin was committed to his strategy, he said he was going too fast that he couldn’t make the commitment line in time.
“I just thought we were screwed actually,” he admitted. “Starting on the second row with old tires, especially new tires right on the outside of you, I thought the only chance we have is to get three-wide entering turn one and get some clean air.”
On the restart with five to go, he would make it three-wide going into turn one, taking the lead through the middle of the corner into turn two.
Through the whole ordeal, the entire team remained calm – Hamlin, Rogers, and the pit crew. For Rogers, he says it makes him very proud of his guys.
“You know in the Chase you’re going to have adversity, it’s going to strike,” he said. “We’ve been talking about it, been trying to mentally prepare for it.”