Kevin Harvick grabbed the first win of NASCAR's playoffs while rival Denny Hamlin finished a distant 13th. Disgusted with his finish, Hamlin threw his water bottle in anger.
“I was so mad. I hate not finishing where I should finish or run,” Hamlin said. “I'm such a competitor, I want to win every week. I look at the top five and for 95% of the race we outran those guys and they go steal a win or a top five. It's just so frustrating for me.”
The mediocre finish at Darlington Raceway didn't harm Hamlin in the standings and he is still ranked second headed into Richmond Raceway for the second round of the playoffs. Hamlin has enough playoff points to easily advance into the next round.
He didn't want to hear about the playoff points after Darlington.
“I just want to win every week,” Hamlin said. “We have this playoff cushion because we earned it during the regular season. It doesn't make me get over it.”
The race Saturday night will be at his home track, where he has three career victories and 17 top-10 finishes in 27 career starts. He has finished lower than sixth only once in the last nine races at Richmond yet believes he long ago lost the edge he held over his competitors on the 0.75-mile, D-shaped oval.
Hamlin believes data sharing has allowed his rivals to catch him at his favorite track.
“Basically I left my notebook on top of the car and it spread all over the racetrack and every driver picked it up,” Hamlin said. “(Data sharing’s) been a benefit for me at other racetracks. But certainly I felt like when I went to Richmond, went to Martinsville, I had a tremendous advantage over the field. Not an unfair advantage, just a skill advantage.
“The way I drove those racetracks helped me perform and when other drivers got to see that, it really kind of opened things up and it took away any advantage that I might have on the driver side. Now we’ve had to rely on just putting a better race car on the racetrack than them, which is very, very difficult."
INTERIM CREW CHIEFS
Reigning series champion Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer will both have interim crew chiefs at Richmond after inspection infractions at Darlington.
Greg Zipadelli, the competition director at Stewart-Haas Racing and a former championship-winning crew chief, will fill in for Bowyer. Busch will be led by Jacob Canter, an engineer on his Joe Gibbs Racing team.
It shouldn't be a difficult adjustment, Busch explained, because of “war rooms” teams established during the pandemic. Because NASCAR has strict roster limits at the track, teams have already been utilizing off-site command centers to communicate with engineers.
“With the communications and all that stuff that we have going on right now, (not) that much is going to be different,” Busch said. "Me talking on the radio is basically me talking directly to Adam, it’s just I can’t hear back from Adam. That will be all information coming back to me from Jacob. Obviously the car back at the shop is all set up by Adam. It’s just a guy on top of the box.”
NO HARD FEELINGS
Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. quickly moved past their on-track incident at Darlington that cost both a chance at the victory.
Truex was trying to pass Elliott for the lead late in the race when he failed to fully clear Elliott and the two cars made contact. Truex had to pit for repairs and Elliott was chased down by Harvick, who won the race.
Both drivers understood there was no ill intent and move forward to Richmond with their relationship intact.
“I do think that situation was a racing incident. I think we were both battling really hard for a win,” Elliott said. “I think any other time in the race, I probably would give him the position. But in that situation, you have to know that nobody is going to let anybody in for a race win with 15 laps left.”
Truex said the move was “going to be the pass for the win.”
“We both made a split-second decision and tried to anticipate or think about what the other one would do, and I think we both guessed wrong,” Truex said. “Just really close, obviously, nobody’s fault.”