For the third straight week, Hamlin has experienced an issue that has forced him to abandon a strong run to make a late-race pit stop.
In Sunday’s race at Pocono Raceway, Hamlin was trying to stretch his fuel to the finish and inherited the lead with two of 140 laps remaining after William Byron was forced to pit for fuel.
Unfortunately, Hamlin, himself had to pit the next lap to do the very same thing, handing the win to his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch and relegating him to a 14th-place finish.
“Just do what I’m told: Don’t run when I’m not supposed to run, run when I’m supposed to run. The result is we pitted on the last lap for three weeks in a row,” Hamlin said. “That’s tough. I mean, I hate seeing the white (flag) coming to pit road. It’s just so frustrating.
“Fuel mileage has got us the last two weeks. Lug nuts the week before (at the All-Star Race). We’re running fast. We’re getting a little better. I think overall we had a little bit more speed this weekend than what we’ve had the past few weeks.
“Just can’t see the checkered right now.”
Still at the top of the standings
Even without a win yet this year, Hamlin remains the series points leader, leading Kyle Larson by eight with seven races left in the regular season.
But his lead has shrunk considerably over the last 11 races – he held a whopping 81-point advantage over second-place following his second-place finish at Richmond, Va., on April 18.
Hamlin said the end of Sunday’s race came down to not being able to save enough fuel, but he’s still in a position of trying to earn his first win of 2021, so the strategy decision is a difficult one.
“I mean, you’re trying to win or you’re trying to get the best finish that you can. But ultimately, we just didn’t save enough,” he said.
“(Busch) I think came in and got topped off (with fuel) because he had transmission issues. That was essentially the race.”