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Why Does Denny Hamlin Keep Choking in the Playoffs?

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Denny Hamlin had a mechanical failure at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and he once again finds himself on the outside looking in on the Championship 4 heading into Martinsville. It’s the second year in a row Hamlin has found himself in this spot, and he is dangerously close to once again falling short of a Cup Series Championship.

With no Championships in his career, what is it that causes Hamlin and his team to keep choking in the Playoffs? Let’s take a look at Hamlin’s Playoff history, and what is it that has caused Hamlin to continuously be on the outside looking in.

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Hamlin’s Closest Calls

Hamlin has had his fair share of close calls during his career, and there have been plenty of heartbreaking finishes. What happened to cause Hamlin to miss out on that elusive Championship?


To this day, it’s hard to say any Championship loss was more disappointing for Hamlin than this one. He had Jimmie Johnson on the ropes following a win at Texas, and both he and his team flopped the next two races. Hamlin ran out of gas at Phoenix to finish a disappointing 12th after leading 190 laps, and he followed that up with another disappointing race at Homestead. He started 37th, spun out early, and never was totally right all day as Jimmie Johnson won the Championship by 39 points.

This one was all on Hamlin and the 11 team. There were no extenuating circumstances, they just flat-out did not perform when it mattered most. One can only wonder what would have happened if just one less mistake had been made by Hamlin and his team in those final two races.


2014 was far from Hamlin’s best season, but he found his way in the Championship 4 in the first year of the “Chase Grid” era of the NASCAR Playoffs. Hamlin swapped the lead with Jeff Gordon (not in the Championship 4) throughout the late stages of the race, but Kevin Harvick got the better of Hamlin on a late restart. Hamlin still sat in third on the final restart, but he would fall all the way back to seventh.

Again, this is another instance of Hamlin just not performing when it mattered most. Then again, maybe his car was just not quite up to snuff late in the race. Still, he fell out of contention late, which ruined his night.


Denny Hamlin silenced those saying he could not perform in the clutch by winning at Phoenix to make it to the Championship 4. The following race at Homestead was a different story. He would lead only two laps on the day, but he seemed to be finding his groove late in the race when an oversized piece of tape was put on the grill during a pit stop. Hamlin’s car started overheating, and he was forced to pit a second time, taking him out of contention.

This incident was completely on Hamlin’s race team. Hamlin did everything he could all season, and he got them to the Championship 4 with a win. However, it was a critical error on a pit stop that ended the day for Hamlin.

Playoffs & Championship Letdowns

Hamlin has also had his fair share of years where he has not been ridiculously close to a Championship, but he has had a slow letdown towards the end of the season or in a final race. What are some of those years in Hamlin’s career?


In 2012, Denny Hamlin took the one seed into the Chase as he won four races in the regular season. Expectations were high, and some felt that Hamlin had a chance to get a Championship. He won the second Chase race at New Hampshire. He would go on top flop with only three top-10s in the final eight races to finish a disappointing sixth.

He had speed at times, but he had a mechanical failure leaving him multiple laps down at Martinsville, and he was caught up in the last lap crash at Talladega. Some of it was inconsistency, some of it was bad luck. However, it is hard to say this was all on Hamlin the driver.


Throughout all of 2020, it felt like either Denny Hamlin or Kevin Harvick was winning races. After Harvick was left out following a tough race at Martinsville, Hamlin seemed to be a potential favorite heading into Phoenix. Well, he would start fourth, finish fourth, and he led zero laps. He was the slowest of the Championship 4 contenders all day long.

This is down to Hamlin and his team just not rising to the occasion on that day. They were good, but they needed to be great. Unfortunately, it just did not work out.


This one ended at Martinsville, where Hamlin did everything right. He led 203 laps, won both stages and finished a solid fifth place. The problem was that Ross Chastain pulled off a video game move to take that one important point from Hamlin. The “Hail Melon” was born.

This is one of those moments where you wonder if there is Divine Intervention preventing Hamlin from winning a Championship. I mean, there is no way this ever happens again, and it happened to mess up Denny Hamlin.

A combination of things has caused Denny Hamlin to miss out on the big trophy at the end of the season. It’s tough to pin it all on just one thing, but, he just has not found his way into a Championship.

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