Denny Hamlin’s already slim margin for error in his quest to overcome an early-season back injury and make the Chase for the Sprint Cup may now be down to zero.
On Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, Hamlin ran a paint design that fallen driver Jason Leffler drove with for Joe Gibbs Racing when he debuted their still-ongoing FedEx sponsorship in 2005. But Hamlin was unable to make an impact in the Quicken Loans 400, finishing 30th with a car that could never make him a factor.
“We changed everything,” Hamlin’s crew chief, Darian Grubb, told NASCAR.com. “We changed shocks, bump stops, everything and we never affected it really. So we’ll take it back to the shop, tear it all apart and see if we can find something.”
Hamlin is currently 26th in the Sprint Cup standings, six spots out of where he needs to be in order to enter the conversation for a wild-card spot in the Chase. The two drivers between 11th and 20th place that have the most wins are eligible to earn those particular berths, and with 11 races remaining in the regular season, it could officially be desperation time for Hamlin and his No. 11 JGR squad.
Going into Michigan, Hamlin had recorded finishes of 34th at Dover (where he had sat on the pole) and eighth last weekend at Pocono. He needed to follow up strong on that Top 10 at the Tricky Triangle, but instead, he was unable to make up ground.
Next up is Sonoma, a track where he has never won and has finished outside the Top 30 in his last three starts.