The driver of the No. 11 has checked one box so far in 2022. Denny Hamlin won a Cup Series race and made himself eligible for the playoffs. Now he and his team have adopted a new strategy — all they want is playoff points.
Hamlin met with media members on May 7 ahead of Cup Series practice and qualifying at Darlington Raceway. He explained that he has had one of the best cars in the field all year long, but mistakes have created major issues and dropped him outside of the top 20. He has a playoff spot, but he still needs to gain more ground for when the field cuts down to 16.
“We’ve given up on regular-season points and even getting in the top 10,” Hamlin said during his media availability. “I’m not even sure. For us, it’s simplified our strategy. We go for playoff points only. So when you see the field start splitting because ‘do they want stage points or whatever,’ you know where the 11 stands from this point on. We’re trying to get five points at the end of the race and two for the playoffs during stages. So it actually simplifies our strategy for the regular season.”
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With the issues that Hamlin and his team have faced throughout the year, there is a concern that more problems could drop him in the standings. If he fell out of the top 30, he would no longer be eligible for the playoffs. However, Hamlin does not see a scenario where this occurs.
“If I drop out of the top 30, this will be my last season,” Hamlin joked. “For sure.”
Hamlin’s Team Has Dealt With Adversity
The No. 11 has experienced numerous issues during the 2022 season. There have been DNFs due to crashes and mechanical issues, as well as a lost wheel at Dover Motor Speedway. He also sustained considerable damage after a spinning Cody Ware collected the No. 11. The result is a season that is unfamiliar territory for Hamlin and his team.
The issues continued during qualifying at Darlington Raceway. Hamlin completed his lap, but he experienced a loss of power and heard a grinding sound. There were concerns about the engine blowing up, but the team discovered that part of the diffuser broke. Though Hamlin will still have to drop to the rear of the field for the Goodyear 400.
“It’s been frustrating. I mean, honestly, it’s just been week after week of being the coyote that gets the anvil dropped on its head,” Hamilton said. “I mean, I don’t even know how else to explain it. I mean, even after the wheel falls off, I just tell my team at Dover — you know, I think we got back to about 10th or 12th or something in the middle of one run — I said, ‘if we don’t f*** up from here, we’re gonna lap the field. This is just incredible. I mean, my cars have been really fast.”
Hamlin further pointed out the struggles by explaining how prior to Dover Motor Speedway, he had a better average running position than points leader Chase Elliott. However, he sits outside of the top 20 while Elliott is at the top of the leaderboard due to unexpected issues.
“So our performance, when we’re not at Martinville running 30th, like, it’s been really good all year. We’ve had things that just broke. I’ve had more mechanical failures this year than I’ve ever had. Again, some of these parts that we don’t control, NASCAR is continuing to change them and develop them as to make them better. So we don’t have a lot of problems, but we’ve just been the kind of the poster child of the ones that break things.”
Hamlin Has an Opportunity at Darlington Raceway
While the 2022 season has been a struggle for Hamlin and the No. 11 team, they can make some positive moves at The Lady in Black. The veteran driver has achieved significant success at the South Carolina track.
Hamlin has made 19 starts at Darlington Raceway in his Cup Series career, and he has posted top-10 finishes in 78.9% of his starts. He has also reached Victory Lane four times, including the Southern 500 in 2021. This was his first win of the year, and it automatically moved him to the Round of 12.
Replicating this success will not be a simple task, especially with the move to the Gen 7 cars. Though Hamlin should have an opportunity if he and his team can avoid the unexpected issues, and if he can keep the car out of the wall while other drivers walk away with the Darlington Stripe.