MARTINSVILLE, Va. – As Ryan Blaney celebrates a win at Martinsville, which sent him to the Championship 4, Denny Hamlin leaned back in his car and watched in silence.
For the second season in a row, he failed to continue in the championship race despite having one of the best cars in the field.
Hamlin, Tyler Reddick, Martin Truex Jr. and Chris Buescher were eliminated from the championship race after Sunday’s race at Martinsville.
Hamlin said Saturday he won’t play defense at Martinsville. He would be on the attack from the moment the race started. He was true to his word.
Hamlin led 156 laps and won Stage 1. He was second in Stage 2. Hamlin had a car capable of winning. It just wasn’t as good as Blaney’s car.
“I was just very happy with my performance,” Hamlin said on pit road. “It’s so different. I can’t describe to you the mindset over the years when I was (expletive) and I knew I had prevented us from going to the next round.”
Hamlin was consistent throughout the playoffs. He posted five top-10 finishes, four top-fives and one win in the first eight playoff races.
The turning point for Hamlin’s playoffs was Homestead. He crashed and finished 30th after a steering problem sent him into the outside wall.
Hamlin dropped to 17 points under the mark heading into Sunday’s elimination race. He finished the day eight points behind William Byron, who took the final transfer spot after finishing 13th without any stage points.
Hamlin: Ultimately, Homestead ‘sealed our fate’
Denny Hamlin hates not making it to Championship 4, but admits his power steering problem at Homestead-Miami was too much to overcome without a win at Martinsville.
Truex won the regular season championship and advanced through a tough first two rounds with the points he accumulated during the regular season. With the field down to eight drivers, there was no room for error.
Truex finishes in Round of 16 were ninth in Las Vegas29th at Homestead (engine) and 12th at Martinsville.
Truex started from the pole position at Martinsville and led 47 laps. He was penalized for speeding on the road after the caution pit on lap 219. This dropped him from the top three to outside the top 25 in the standings.
Truex gained five spots back before the end of Stage 2. He lost them all during the stage break. His team had a slow pit stop after the jack went down.
“We were quick at times, but the execution wasn’t solid, it wasn’t consistent,” Truex said. “We were unlucky. We’ve had a little bit of everything. Like I said, some years you feel like it’s your year, some years it’s not. I just feel like we couldn’t do anything right.
Truex Jr eliminated: ‘I gave a hell of an effort’
Martin Truex Jr. thought he was well off the pace leaving the box and was “really disappointed” by the costly mistake and the inability to compete for a championship in Phoenix.
Redick was never a factor during the playoff run. He spun during Saturday’s qualifying and started 19th. He remained in the middle of the pack throughout the race, finishing the first two stages 19th and 21st.
Reddick dropped a lap several times. He was moved out of the way by Blaney and Eric Jones at various points in the race. Redick finished 19th, the furthest of the drivers in the playoffs.
“It was a tough day,” Reddick said. “We had voltage issues and some of the cooling systems were going on and off. It got really, really hot – that’s for sure, but that wasn’t going to stop me wanting to ride really, really hard out there.”
Buescher entered Sunday’s race in a must-win situation after finishing 11th at Las Vegas and 21st at Homestead with no stage points in either race. He couldn’t point his way to Championship 4.
Buescher was 17th at the end of Stage 1 and 14th at the end of Stage 2 on Sunday in Martinsville. He entered the top 10 after a two-tire pit stop on lap 326.
Büscher was unable to hold onto his track position during the final 168-lap green flag race. Blaney and Hamlin passed him. Buescher still crossed the finish line eighth in his career-best finish at Martinsville.
“I just wanted more, but I don’t think any of us are going to stand here right now and say we didn’t do our best,” Buescher said. “I’m pretty happy with that part, but we wanted to go on to the next round. This round just didn’t help us. We didn’t manage to hit everything on the head.”