Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – AVONDALE, AZ – Twenty points down heading into the Round of 8 elimination race at ISM Raceway, Denny Hamlin’s knows that failure is a real possibility.
One of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff favorites entering last Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, Hamlin lost control of his car on Lap 80 while running in the top 10, slid through the infield grass, damaged the splitter on the No. 11 Toyota and ultimately finished 28th.
Hamlin comes to Phoenix facing an uphill battle more challenging than a hike up Rattlesnake Hill, which overlooks the one-mile track in the Sonoran Desert.
Hamlin has known failure at Phoenix before. In 2010, under a different non-elimination scoring system, Hamlin held a 33-point lead over Jimmie Johnson but lost 18 points of his advantage at Phoenix on an errant pit call.
A week later, his best chance for a series championship today evaporated early in the season finale at Homestead, after Hamlin qualified 37th, wrecked early, finished 14th and handed Johnson his fifth straight title.
In Sunday’s Bluegreen Vacations 500 (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), Hamlin, who qualified third on Saturday, must make up 22 points on pole winner Kyle Busch or 20 points on Joey Logano, the two drivers immediately ahead of him in the Playoff standings. A race win also would earn a spot in the Championship 4.
Even if he doesn’t advance, however, Hamlin will still consider this season a success.
“No matter what, I will not consider this year any sort of a failure,” Hamlin said. “We, as Mark Martin would say, we just didn’t score enough points. We had a great year, we won races, we led more laps than we have in a long time and more top fives than anybody in the series.
“It’s been a really good year and I’m just not going to let the outcome of this weekend, or last weekend, decide whether it’s a good season or not. I think you have to adjust that. One race, winner take all, or a three-race round – anything can happen, and it did for us.”
CONFESSION WASN’T GOOD FOR BUBBA WALLACE’S WALLET
Deciding whether a competitor has spun deliberately to cause a caution is one of the most difficult judgment calls NASCAR has to make.
Of course, if you admit it to a national reporter, NASCAR’s job is a lot easier.
That was the case with Bubba Wallace, who acknowledged to Dustin Long of NBCSports.com on Friday that he had spun on purpose last Sunday at Texas to try to make the best of a flat tire.
NASCAR reacted quickly, fining Wallace $50,000 and docking him 50 driver points on Saturday.
“The reaction today was after a complete admission of guilt,” said NASCAR senior vice president of competition Scott Miller. “That’s really what led to the penalty happening today.
“All we can do is wait and watch and see how we need to react next. Hopefully, we don’t. Hopefully, it cleans itself up.”
In Miller’s view, NASCAR had no choice after the confession.
“Here’s the deal: it’s not very straightforward to determine whether that is done on purpose. We’ve all watched the cars drive down the straightaway with a flat tire, weaving all over the place. For us to make a definitive call that a guy spun out on purpose when he can barely keep his car straight is a big call—and it’s a judgment call, and it’s a call we would like to not have to be able to make.
“Hopefully, they can know that the possibility of this happening is out there if it’s very blatant and don’t do it.”
Richard Petty Motorsports, which fields Wallace’s cars, declined to appeal the penalties.
WEST COAST STOCK CAR HALL OF FAME ANNOUNCES 2020 NOMINEES
Six first-time nominees join 14 others who have appeared on previous ballots in making up the 20 nominees for the 2020 class of the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame, announced on Saturday at ISM Raceway.
Included in the list is veteran crew chief Ernie Cope, currently serving as competition director for JTG Daugherty racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
New to the list are Ken Boyd, Tony Hunt, Craig Keough, Jerry Pitts, Nick Rescino and Linda Vaughan. Previous nominees include NASCAR veteran Mike Bliss, Dave Byrd, Cope, Mike David, Dave Fuge, Tom Gloy, Lance Hooper, Tommy Kendall, Rick Mears, Danny Ongais, Jim Pettit II, Greg Pickett, Tom Sneva and George Snider.
The Hall will induct five new members during Sonoma race week in June of next year.