One year his championship hopes ended because a roof hatch was improperly installed. Another year it was a broken switch in the electrical system. Another year a caution came out at an inopportune time. Another year was a nerves-induced spin brought about by inexperience.
So it goes almost annually in the NASCAR playoffs for Denny Hamlin, whose 29 career victories are tops among active drivers without a Sprint Cup championship.
"There's nobody that's had worse luck in the Chase than I have," Hamlin said Thursday at Chase Media Day in the Southside of Chicago. "That's a fact."
As he has many times since debuting in 2006, Hamlin again enters this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup regarded as one of the favorites. That status is earned by winning three regular season races and posting a (still active) career-best streak during which he's finished 10th or better in eight consecutive events. Further lending credence is that a majority of the 10 playoff tracks are among the Joe Gibbs Racing driver's very best.
Of course, a presumptive championship run is dependent upon no misfortune befalling him.
"If I'm going to be eliminated, I want it to be straight up," Hamlin said. "It's just head scratching at times, but it happens. It's bad luck and it happens."
While rotten luck may sound like a convenient excuse, for Hamlin it's a fitting descriptor.
Last year, Hamlin won the Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway, seemingly a prelude of good things to come. Confidence further buoyed when he started Round 2 with finishes of fourth and second.
But all that came undone in the elimination race at Talladega Superspeedway. That was when the roof hatch on the No. 11 car repeatedly popped open, requiring two green flag pit stops to fix. Hamlin missed advancing to Round 3 by eight points.
JGR later determined the hatch wasn't properly welded, Hamlin said. Another teammate had a similar issue, but fortuitously their hatch remained closed.
"I was the unfortunate one," Hamlin said. "But, it was a leak in our system somehow and it bit us but there's not much you can do as a driver. You just hope that at the end of the year when it's all said and done if we didn't win the championship, I want it to be because we got outran not because something broke on the car."
An avid sports fan, the 35-year-old Hamlin points toward another well-known, once-snakebitten franchise as proof his luck will one day change for the better.
"Eventually, even the Red Sox won the World Series," Hamlin said, "so for sure I'm thinking I can win the Chase."