JGR meets with Hamlin's crew after pit stop blunder
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Joe Gibbs Racing officials met Monday to discuss personnel changes after a pit road mishap cost Denny Hamlin a victory at Darlington Raceway.
Hamlin was critical of his crew after a pair of dropped lug nuts during a late pit stop cost him the race. Hamlin, who led a race-high 179 laps, was in second when he went into the pits but plummeted to 16th after the error.
Although he rallied to finish second, he was furious after Sunday's race.
"If we lose by 20-30 points when it comes down to the championship, we know exactly where we lost it, and that's on pit road," said Hamlin, who could have won three or four races this season if not for mechanical problems or mistakes on pit road.
"I gave away Phoenix, that's my fault. But there's two to three other races that we had the best car most all day, and even at the end, and just gave it away on pit road. Today was a prime example of that."
The team met Monday to see if any changes should be made to a crew that helped Hamlin to two victories and a third-place finish in the Chase for the championship during last year's rookie season.
"It's a lot like football, pretty cut and dry: You either get it done or get replaced," said team president J.D. Gibbs, son of Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, the race team owner.
"The thing we've kind of noticed is that it's not one person, though. It's inconsistency across the board and it has to get better."
Hamlin, who admitted he was "pretty mad" after the race, said his initial thought was to fire crew members. He then rattled off the wins that got away from him: A fuel pump problem at Bristol, a loose lug nut at Martinsville, his speeding on pit road violation at Phoenix and then Darlington.
"It just goes on and on every week," he said. "It's just the same story. We're at a different race track and I'm here talking about the exact same things."
But as he calmed down, Hamlin said he'd rather his crew members improve rather than replace them.
"I think their head gets in the way of their hands," Hamlin said. "It's just a mental aspect of it. Had we been running 20th and we had a terrible stop, oh well. But when you're in contention for the win, it's all about just not making mistakes."
Gibbs said the entire organization is frustrated. Winless through 11 races, Hamlin and teammate Tony Stewart can click off races each should have won.
Instead, the JGR group has bobbled with wins on the line and Hendrick Motorsports has been there to capitalize. The Hendrick crew has won eight of the last nine races, including four straight.
Hamlin has finished in the top three in four of the five Car of Tomorrow Races and led a series high 563 laps.
"When you hurt yourself, that is just really frustrating, and we've had it happen so many times this year," Gibbs said. "The good news is we've got good cars. The bad news is we're shooting ourselves in the foot. But I'd much rather be dealing with this issue than with cars running 25th every week.
"We'll work through this."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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