As it turned out, the two drivers who dominated Victory Lane during the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season were left without the championship.
Kevin Harvick, who led the series with nine wins, was eliminated from further playoff contention last weekend at Martinsville, Va.
Hamlin, who had seven wins this season, barely advanced to the Championship 4 based on points out of Martinsville. He finished fourth in Sunday’s season finale at Phoenix Raceway but was the only title contender not to lead a lap in the race.
“We were a little off handling, but overall car speed, we just didn’t have enough,” Hamlin said. “Our next best teammate was 10th, so as an organization we have got to get a little better, especially on the short tracks.
“It seems like we were a little bit off all year, and that was all it had, that’s for sure. I was pushing for everything I had. We just didn’t quite have enough today, and we ended up fourth.”
The next-best Toyota in Sunday’s race was Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Martin Truex Jr. Kyle Busch was 11th and Erik Jones ended up 22nd.
None of the JGR drivers led a lap in Sunday’s race.
Just not enough
However, Hamlin said the difference between running fourth and contending for the win was “just a little bit every lap.”
“It was so, so small. At times we were pretty good and maybe I had the fastest car, but it was just a few laps here and there. We just needed a little bit more,” he said.
“Obviously, this package in particular we weren’t great this year and this was one of our better runs with it, but it just wasn’t enough really.”
Hamlin, 39, remained upbeat on his season, despite coming up short for the second consecutive year in the title race.
“No one has won more than we have over the last two years. Daytona 500 two years in a row, the final four two years in a row. I’m pretty proud of what this team is doing and what we are building toward,” he said.
“We will come back and do it again next year. I’m looking forward to it. We will win as many races as we possibly can to get ourselves back to Phoenix again with another shot.”
Hamlin will also expand his footprint in NASCAR next season, becoming a minority owner in a Cup team with NBA legend Michael Jordan that will field a Toyota for driver Bubba Wallace.
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