The driver to beat in Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway was clear to all. It was Denny Hamlin, who led 150 laps in total and easily distanced himself from the rest of the field.
However, miscommunication during Hamlin's final pit stop proved to be his undoing. Instead of getting two tires like his driver wanted, crew chief Darian Grubb called for four fresh tires, thinking Hamlin wanted more grip.
"What happened was, Darian asked me how much of the tires he felt like I used up," Hamlin said. "I said, ‘I felt like I used them up a substantial amount. I'd been on the lefts for quite a few laps.'
"So my information to him was, ‘Yeah, I've used up the tires.' He said, ‘I think two is the call.' I said, ‘OK, just give me tires and no adjustments.' He took that as I meant four tires. So it's just that small miscommunication just messed us up a little bit."
The mixup shuffled the Joe Gibbs Racing driver back to 13th with just 62 laps to go. Despite valiant effort, there was not enough time to get back to the lead. Hamlin was forced to accept a hard-fought second-place finish instead.
Ultimately, Hamlin referred to it as a "perfect storm" of things coming together at an inopportune time.
From the moment the caution waved to the moment he hit his pit box, there were only 45 seconds for Hamlin and crew chief Grubb to get the on the same page strategy-wise. With a few more seconds, there would have been no miscommunication and, barring something unforeseen, the No. 11 team would have been celebrating its third win of 2012.
"You're going to have days like this," Hamlin said. "It's part of racing. That's why it's such a team sport. It's the pit crew, the driver, the car, the crew chief, all those things put together. We just had a slight miscommunication, that one little mistake will magnify and take a win away from you."
Although Hamlin was understandably disappointed with the turn of events, he remarkably wasn't letting the miscue get him down afterward. Instead, he seemed to be relishing the opportunity of coming back to New Hampshire in September and capturing what eluded him this weekend.
And Hamlin does have reason to be optimistic, as he's solidly in the Chase and in contention for the top seed. It's also not unfathomable to think that Hamlin will seriously challenge for his first championship.
But even that optimism can't erase the fact Hamlin and his team let a race get away that they should have won.
"Your emotions, it's tough to keep them in check when you know you've kind of given one away," Hamlin said. "Darian has won me a couple races this year more than he's taken away from me. ...
"As hard as it is to keep your emotions in check, you have to take it in stride and realize, after you pull out on pit road, go out on the racetrack, there's nothing you can do about it."