Denny Hamlin led 31 laps at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 6 and appeared to be en route to his first top-10 finish of the Cup Series season. However, a self-inflicted mechanical issue ended his day early and led to strong comments from the driver of the No. 11 Toyota Camry TRD.
“Fastest car in the track today. Worst driver on the track today. Great improvements by everyone @JoeGibbsRacing and @ToyotaRacing. Get me to Phx.” Hamlin tweeted on March 6 after the No. 11 stalled on pit road.
Green flag pit stops were underway as drivers fueled up and got new tires for the final dash to the checkered flag, but the veteran driver brought out the caution flag after he accidentally downshifted and spun out. He received a push back to his pit stall where he tried to get any of the gears to work, but the mechanical issue brought his day to an end.
“We broke the transaxle,” Hamlin told FOX Sports’ Jamie Little after he climbed out of the No. 11. “Just killed every gear when I left pit road. We had the best car today, but just got back there and we were working our ways forward and made mistakes.”
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The stall on the track and the broken transaxle were not the only issues that disrupted Hamlin’s day. The No. 11 also pinned the front air hose and extended the length of a pit stop.
Despite the issues, Hamlin still secured points in the first two stages and passed Bowman and Ryan Blaney for the lead after going three-wide into one of the turns. He just could not complete the race in a stock car that had the pace to contend for a win.
The 2 DNFs Remain an Outlier for Hamlin
With Hamlin failing to finish two of the first three races, he is in relatively uncharted territory. He has never started a season with more than one DNF in the first 10 weeks, but he has dealt with new problems with the Gen 7 era.
Hamlin has spent the overwhelming majority of his Cup Series career avoiding incidents and mechanical issues, leading to only 45 DNFs in 581 career starts (7.745%). With 46 wins, Hamlin has actually won more than he has exited the track early.
This run of consistency includes the 2019 and 2020 seasons where Hamlin had two combined DNFs, as well as a 2021 season where he completed every single race and reached the championship four.
Hamlin actually predicted a rise in on-track incidents near the end of the 2021 season. He joined Twitter’s Racing Spaces in September and explained that there are major differences between the Gen 6 and Gen 7 cars in how they shift and drive. He also noted that he couldn’t see with the lower seats and that he had concerns about going to Martinsville with the new cars.
This thing is an entirely different machine,” Hamlin said, quote courtesy of Cassie Fambro. “There will certainly be more wrecks, no question.”
Hamlin Has To Make Up a Lot of Points
The season is only three races deep, but Hamlin sits at a disadvantage in the championship standings. He is 30th overall with 38 points, 75 behind Kyle Larson and in a tie with teammate Christopher Bell.
This placement is a major change from past seasons considering that Hamlin kicked off his 2019 and 2020 seasons with Daytona 500 wins. He did not win in 2021 until the playoffs began, but he was the most consistent driver. He had the top spot on the leaderboard until Chase Briscoe spun him at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on August 15, dropped him to a 23rd-place finish, and put Larson in control of the standings.
Based on Hamlin’s history of consistency in NASCAR, it’s unlikely that he remains buried in the standings. He will begin to make strides on the track while contending for wins once again, starting with a return to Phoenix Raceway on March 13. Hamlin has two career wins at the one-mile track, as well as an average finish of 10.5.