Denny Hamlin thinks he overachieved to finish third in Sunday's Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix. He believes he and his team has some work to do if they're to win races and contend for the championship.
Hamlin successfully used the shortcut on the dogleg of the Speedway on the final lap to overtake the battling cars of Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson. While Johnson ultimately passed him back coming to the checkered flag, Hamlin believes his calculated risk was a worthy one - and one he was already committed to.
"There was nothing I was going to do that would make me back out," Hamlin said. "I just hoped that I would have slid in front of the 48, but then you risk getting punted and spun, and your whole day gets taken away in a corner.
"I held my line and really thought I did the right thing to get those guys... But I gave them an opportunity to pass me back, and obviously one of them did."
Hamlin says he premeditated his dive bomb move prior to taking the white flag because he wanted to get in front of Johnson. Hamlin added that he thought Johnson was the driver to beat on the final restart but hadn't seen what allowed eventual winner Carl Edwards to get the jump on the rest of the field.
Once the race came down to a battle for second place, Hamlin said he decided to use the shortcut to get a good run on Johnson and Keselowski who were side-by-side coming out of turn two. And once Keselowski slid up the surface, it gave Hamlin the opportunity he had been waiting for.
"I was plotting my move ever since I saw Jimmie and Brad get side-by-side," Hamlin said. "I knew it was going to be interesting because Brad was driving so hard. Eventually he was going to slide up... and once he did, that opened the door for me."
Hamlin qualified eighth but had to start at the rear of the field once Joe Gibbs Racing determined that he and teammate Kyle Busch could have faulty parts in their Toyota engines. Both Busch and Matt Kenseth suffered engine failures in the Daytona 500 and the team is on high alert as a result.
The No. 11 car quickly worked its way through the field in the early stages of the race and caught a few lucky cautions as well. Hamlin credits that, not so much the handling of his car, as the reason for his third-place finish.
"I'm ecstatic about our finish, don't get me wrong," Hamlin said. "We did not have a third-place car today. But my pit crew just kept putting me in a position to race with those guys, and then I capitalized when one or two guys in front of me made some mistakes here and there.
"I'd pick up one more spot here and there and next thing you know, I've got a shot to possibly get a win. That's what you've got to do when you don't have the best car."