For the second time in his career, it was a case of so close yet so far for Denny Hamlin. The Joe Gibbs Racing No.11 came incredibly close to touching silverware, having qualified for the Championship 4 race at the Phoenix Raceway.
However, Hamlin was unable to replicate his regular season’s performance at Arizona. A lot of that also had to do with his car’s performance and maximum speeds.
NASCAR analyst David Smith, however, has fine-tuned a few aspects that Denny Hamlin and his crew chief Chris Gabehart should focus on. In doing so, they will need to skew their efforts in building a car capable of performing top-notch at the 750 horsepower-enabled tracks.
Speaking in a podcast, Smith is quoted as saying, “The bad was this team’s close to the season. They ranked 11th in central speed across the Playoffs stretch. And that doesn’t include Talladega, which was the site of his only Playoffs win this year.”
Hamlin enjoyed a very successful regular season, winning six of the 26 scheduled races. This momentum slightly slipped off in the build-up to the final. Eventually, he also fell short at Phoenix, where the likes of Elliott and Logano were able to maximize their performance.
“So the fix is a more centralized focus on the Playoff tracks, specifically the 750 tracks. Similar to Kevin Harvick’s team at Stewart-Haas, Denny Hamlin’s team aim for strength everywhere. Potentially to the detriment of performance on the shorter tracks.”
Smith added to the analysis and said, “Hamlin alluded to this over the course of the last week, suggesting that they didn’t have the short track performance this year. Certainly not good enough to tip the scales in his favor when it mattered most. And the natural step for the Hamlin-Gabehart combo is a championship.”
“The best crack at that is to focus more heavily on the tracks where they didn’t fare as well in 2020. So maybe askew being historically great and go for the one trophy that you know you’re targeting,” concluded Smith.
Considering almost half of the Playoffs races take place at 750 hp tracks, the idea for Hamlin is quite clear to set up the car in that direction in 2021. For a driver intending to win the championship, he needs to give himself the best shot in such races.