Direct from Denny Hamlin
Throughout the 2017 NASCAR Playoffs, FedEx Racing Team driver Denny Hamlin will share his thoughts after each race weekend for a special, 10-week blog chronicling the #11 team’s path to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship. Check back each week for Denny’s race recap and be sure to cheer on the #11 FedEx Racing Team on Twitter using hashtags #FedEx11 and #DennyDelivers, and stay updated throughout the NASCAR season at FedExRacing.com.
Moving On to the Round of 8
October 26, 2017
Our team is on to the next round of the NASCAR Playoffs – the Round of 8 – after a huge Stage win and solid fifth-place finish at Kansas. While we’re obviously excited to move on, there’s no doubt that this Round of 8 will be the most important to our season.
We started the race at Kansas in fourth which allowed our team to get a clean, consistent run out of the gate, and we got a third-place finish in Stage 1. At the end of the race’s second segment, we took a chance with pit strategy and stayed out on the track under yellow to lead the field. This led to a one-lap shootout with Harvick and Keselowski, but the reward was well worth the risk, and we were able to come out on top to capture our third Stage win of the season.
During the race’s final Stage, a multi-car accident happened right in front of me, but I was able to maneuver through it unharmed which put us in position to capture our 14th top-five finish of the season and punch our ticket to the Round of 8.
Now, with another three-race Playoff segment ahead of us, I think our FedEx team has a good shot to make it into the final Playoffs Round where we could contend for a Championship at Miami. This segment is where we really have to get aggressive, though. There are eight drivers left and only four spots up for grabs, so we’re going to need to run in the top-five each week and contend for victories to move on. Luckily, we’ve had a lot of success at these next few tracks (Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix), and they’re actually some of my favorites.
First up is Sunday’s race at the ‘Paperclip’, Martinsville Speedway, in my home state of Virginia where I’ve visited Victory Lane five times. I’m confident we can run up front and battle for another grandfather clock, the Martinsville winner’s iconic prize.
This weekend is also special because I’ll be driving the #11 FedEx at Walgreens Toyota. Our car has a completely new look for the weekend that celebrates FedEx and Walgreens joining together to give customers the option to now drop off and pick up their FedEx packages at nearly every Walgreens location.
We Survived Talladega
We all knew that the unpredictability of restrictor-plate racing would make Talladega a true wild card race in the NASCAR Playoffs. Fortunately for us, we were able to miraculously escape unscathed. But the weekend wasn’t without its share of stressful situations for our team.
After a swift pit stop during the Stage 1 break and taking over an early lead for three laps in the race’s second Stage, our team was off to a great start before disaster almost struck. A loose wheel forced us to return to pit road just 10 laps after our scheduled green-flag pit stop, but we caught a major break when the caution came out for debris during our unscheduled stop. We were in danger of going a lap down, but the yellow flag saved us and we were able to stay on the lead lap.
Catching major breaks and avoiding disastrous situations seemed to be the theme of our weekend as the race was filled with multi-car accidents that knocked 10 out of the 12 Playoff drivers out of the race. Not to mention the three big wrecks that happened, all started right in front of us. Somehow we were able to maneuver through every time and capture our 18th top-10 finish of the season.
This Sunday at Kansas will be one of the most important races of our season. We are fifth in overall points heading into the final race in the Round of 12 and although we won there in 2012, it’s a completely different place since they repaved it. Track position is so important on these intermediate tracks, so getting a good starting spot and pit stall will be vital in helping us stay in the top-eight and advancing into Round 3 of the Playoffs.
A Solid Top-Five Finish at NASCAR’s ‘Home Track’
It was another great run for our team on Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Charlotte has been deemed the ‘home track’ of NASCAR considering the sport’s headquarters and a majority of its drivers are located only a short distance from the speedway.
We scored our first pole of the season, so I started Sunday’s race in the top spot. We really benefited from having the preferred #1 pit stall and, and swift pit stops by my No. 11 crew definitely helped us capture another solid finish for the FedEx team.
From the drop of the green flag, our team battled a tight car throughout the duration of the race, but we were able to dig our heels in and work our preferred line to earn ourselves valuable track position. This gave the team a strong and consistent start to the race for the second week in a row – leading the first 35 laps of the race and capturing back-to-back sixth-place finishes in both of the race’s first two Stages.
During the race’s final 154-lap segment, it was really the No. 11 team’s relentless hard work that ultimately earned us more than 12 spots during our final four pit stops and allowed us to earn our 13th top-5 finish of the 2017 season.
Although our FedEx team is fifth in points with a 12-point cushion to stay in the top-8, anything can happen at Talladega. Historically, we’ve run well at ‘Dega with five top-5 finishes, including one win in 2014 and a third-place finish last October, but restrictor-plate racing is unpredictable. In an instant, you can get caught up in someone else’s mistake and it ruins your day.
We’ve worked hard to improve our restrictor-plate program, and it’ll be important for us to perform well this weekend. We’re going to work hard to keep ourselves in a good position to advance to the next round of the Playoffs.
It’s not over after Dover – on to the NASCAR Playoffs Round of 12
Heading into Dover last weekend, I had my sights set on capturing my first victory at the Monster Mile and a strong finish to the first round of the NASCAR Playoffs. I’ve finished in the top-10 in each of the last three races at Dover, so I felt confident heading into the weekend.
After a strong start to the race – capturing top-10 finishes in both of the race’s first two Stages – a great race for us went south when we had to retire early due to a broken axle. It was a very disappointing end to a good run for our FedEx team, but our team can take solace in knowing that we collected enough points to secure our spot in the NASCAR Playoffs Round of 12.
Charlotte has historically been a good track for the No. 11 team. We haven’t won a points race there, but captured a top-five finish in May and won the All-Star race there two years ago. But if you remember, the team had a disastrous finish when we had to deal with engine failure while running second last October.
The goal for our FedEx team is the same as it has been every week…win, but we have extra motivation to make a strong comeback this weekend. I know we’ll have a fast car, but Sunday night is a long race, 500 miles, and it’ll be important to manage our track position, limit mistakes in the pits and be there at the end with a shot to go to victory lane.
Overcoming adversity in New Hampshire to finish 12th
We officially passed the midway point of the first round of the NASCAR Playoffs last weekend at New Hampshire. While it didn’t go as planned, we were able to overcome and get a decent result.
The #11 FedEx car’s handling was starting to come to me as we finished Stage 2, but on the restart of the final Stage, I got shuffled back then felt that my right-rear tire was loose. While I had to make an unscheduled green flag pit stop, the #11 team did a great job of getting the car back on the track, and I was steadily able to work my way up to 12th before my teammate, Kyle Busch, crossed the finish line first.
With New Hampshire behind us, our focus is now on Dover for the final race in Round 1 of the NASCAR Playoffs. We’ve gotten solid results at the Monster Mile over the past few visits, with three top-10 finishes in a row. I’m confident we can put together another strong run this weekend to keep us in the top-12 and advance into Round 2 of the Playoffs.
So now it’s on to the next… Be sure to check out Sunday’s race at 2:00 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network.
We’re still in this!
Preparations begin for New Hampshire under new playoff format
The NASCAR Playoffs kicked off last weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, and our #11 FedEx team has another chance to capture our first championship again this year.
There is a new points format this season, with wins and playoff points carrying over into each round of the Playoffs. Although we aren’t in as good of a position as some of the guys like the 78 (Martin Truex Jr.) and the 42 (Kyle Larson), I feel that we have a good shot to win it all this year. I have been in the Playoffs for a long time now, and there are a lot of good tracks for us on the schedule.
It has been a pretty successful year for our #11 team. We won a couple races and here lately, have been one of the consistently fast cars each week. We still have a bit of work to do to catch Truex and Larson, but we have been inching closer each week and hope to put everything together these last 10 races.
New Hampshire is next on the schedule, and it’s a place that we have had a lot of success at through my career. It’s a relatively short, flat track, that seems to be where we excel. I was able to get the victory at the track earlier this year, and hopefully we can sweep this weekend. It would guarantee a spot for us in the next round, but maybe more importantly, give us continued momentum as the Playoffs move along.
Our focus during the Playoffs will be to make sure we execute each race and minimize our mistakes. These races are hard to win, and you need to have fast cars, good execution and a little bit of luck.
Thanks for following along this year and be sure to check out Sunday’s race at 2:00 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network.
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