Denny Hamlin came into the NASCAR Martinsville weekend knowing he needed a winning result to stay in Chase contention.
Instead, the visit to his best track turned into a nightmare.
After Hamlin twice overcame pit road speeding penalties, racing from the back to the front, a bolt broke off his master electrical switch late in Sunday's Tums Fast Relief 500 and shut off the No. 11 car's power.
Hamlin, who came into Martinsville still very much in contention for the championship, left 49 points behind after finishing 33rd on Sunday. He's now fifth in the standings and all but eliminated with three races to go.
"I've been in these Chases for seven years and I've had my fair share of electrical issues and motor issues and things like that," he said afterward. "All I can do is just drive my heart out, and if it's not meant to be, it's not meant to be. We'll have our time, it's just our time is not now."
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver conceded his championship hopes for this season were done, saying Sunday's race "ended our Chase chances."
"Just have fun," he said. "That's all I can do. Just go out there and be relaxed and enjoy this championship battle that's shaping up. It's a shame that we can't be a part of it, but we're going to work our way as far up in the points as we possibly can and just keep digging."
Hamlin looked to have one of the strongest cars in Sunday's race, but he was twice challenged to prove it when speeding penalties forced him to drop to the back of the field. He made the comebacks look relatively easy, though – just like he did in Saturday's Truck race – and seemed to overcome the issue.
But his car suddenly shut off under green, and Hamlin's team was unable to diagnose the issue. He was forced to spend roughly 30 laps in the garage as his competitors zoomed by, sealing his championship hopes for another year.
"I was hoping that possibly when I down-shifted coming down pit road that I somehow cycled the ECU (electronic fuel injection equipment), and I thought that maybe that was the problem," he said. "So I shut it off and tried to get that working again with no luck. It's just something that we couldn't control."