Denny Hamlin came into Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 in a good spot for going to the championship four in Miami.
He’ll now head to Phoenix in Hail Mary mode after a disastrous Sunday.
Hamlin started the day second in points and 24 ahead of fifth place. But his No. 11 Toyota spun through the frontstretch early in stage two while he was running in the top 10. That accident tore up the underside of Hamlin’s car and he ended up finishing 28th. He’s now 20 points behind Joey Logano for the final playoff spot.
“The car and the effort will be there, that’s for sure,” Hamlin said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that we can go there and win. In these circumstances, I like the challenge. We’re going to go out there and give it our best shot and put our best foot forward and see if we can’t get a win next week.”
Kyle Larson was confident he could win Sunday in what was a near must-win situation. That’s still going to be the case next weekend, and Larson isn’t happy about it.
Larson had a top-10 car throughout the race before a pit stop in the final stage. That stop proved costly as the No. 42 Chevrolet got caught a lap down after Bubba Wallace brought out a caution during the pit-stop cycle. Larson felt like Wallace’s move was intentional as he spun twice with a flat tire.
Larson ended up finishing 12th and is seventh in points.
“What really killed our race was the 43 spinning on purpose,” Larson said. “It put us a lap down. It helped the 4 [race winner Kevin Harvick] and killed us. It is what it is. Nothing we can do now. I felt like we were getting a chance to win until the 43 spun on purpose.”
Driver Matt Tifft was back at the track Sunday a week after suffering a seizure at Martinsville.
Tifft, 23, who drives for Front Row Motorsports, said he feels better after he collapsed in his hauler Oct. 26. All of his tests since the seizure have come back positive.
“It’s been an interesting week for sure,” said Tifft, who had surgery to have a brain tumor removed in 2016. “Honestly, it’s been a little crazy because everything happened so fast. You never know what’s going to happen in life, I guess. I was talking about simulation stuff, and the next thing you know, I’m on the ground.”
Tifft said it was important to get back at the track and in the hauler where he collapsed. He said the brain scans have been positive, and the next tests will be on his brain waves. He will not race again this season, and there is no timetable for him to return to the track. Tifft has a two-year deal with Front Row Motorsports that runs through 2020, and the team will honor that contract.
“My goal right now is to find what caused it,” Tifft said. “I want to be back in a race car, but I don’t care about anything else right now other than finding what caused this.”
John Hunter Nemechek filled in for Tifft on Sunday, making his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup debut and finishing 21st.