Hamlin admits "we probably need to win" at Phoenix despite Texas run

Denny Hamlin had plenty of speed all weekend but not when it counted at Texas Motor Speedway.

Hamlin admits "we probably need to win" at Phoenix despite Texas run
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

Hamlin qualified second was fastest in Happy Hour and led 65 laps in the AAA Texas 500 on Sunday. 

But the driver of the No. 11 Fed Ex Toyota was no match for Martin Truex Jr. and race winner Kevin Harvick. 

“Really had a solid car all day long,” said Hamlin, who finished third. “We lost some track position there when a couple guys took two tires, we took four. Then we had a bad restart, and that kind of took us back in the pack 10th, 12th or so. (The)18 (Kyle Busch) pitted long, tracked us a lap down, then that kind of hurt us a little bit.

“We just fought back to fourth, I think it was, drove back up to fourth, then it was an easy decision to take two tires there. It was the only way we were going to get out front and hopefully win the race. The 78 passed us on that one restart (Lap 288), then the two tires faded, couldn't hold off the 4 (Harvick) there.” 

Still, with 40 laps to go, Hamlin trailed Truex by a half-second. Twelve laps later, Harvick passed Hamlin for second and set his sights on the lead. Hamlin held onto third for the remainder of the race. 

From a points standpoint, Hamlin collected 47-markers with his third-place finish in the first stage, a sixth-place finish in Stage 2 and a third-place result in the race. With one race remaining in the Round of 8, Hamlin enters Phoenix Raceway fifth in the standings, 19-points behind Brad Keselowski, who came from 39th, one-lap down to finish fifth.

Phoenix outlook

What’s his strategy for next weekend?

“Same thing we did today:  just give ourselves a chance to win up front inside the last fuel window,” Hamlin said. “We'll see how it all pans out. Overall a good points day. I would have taken this points day before the day started. My competitors obviously performed well and stretched the lead out.”

With Harvick’s victory, he joins Martinsville Speedway winner Kyle Busch and points leader Martin Truex Jr., who secured a spot in the Championship 4 with a 57-point advantage over Keselowski. 

Hamlin, who won the spring race at Phoenix in 2012, can lock into the final four with a victory. He has a three-point cushion over Ryan Blaney, a 30-point advantage over Chase Elliott and a 32-point lead over Jimmie Johnson. 

“Obviously, our competitors are running up front,” Hamlin said. “Yeah, we probably need to win, most likely, which is amazing. It's the second year in a row in the third round where I average inside a top‑five finish, and that ain't going to be good enough. It needs to be better.               

“But it's about winning races. That's what we'll go next week and try to do.”

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