Denny Hamlin is looking for his first Cup Series championship, and his quest will begin without crew chief Mike Wheeler.
Wheeler is in the midst of a two-race suspension for Hamlin failing a post-race inspection following his win at the Southern 500. Wheeler can communicate with his team, but he can’t be on pit road or in the garage Sunday at Chicagoland. He was also suspended for the regular season finale at Richmond.
Hamlin told NBC Sports he lost track time because he wasn’t as organized last week without Wheeler, and he’s hoping everything will be improved this week at Chicagoland.
“We started 10 minutes late to both practices because our car wasn’t ready,’” Hamlin said. “In between changes, we didn’t have the sense of urgency, getting out there, getting it done, getting back on the track, where (Wheeler) is usually pushing them to get it done. I think our track time was cut down.”
Hamlin also said the responsibility falls on him to make sure everything is organized so interim crew chief Chris Gabehart’s job will be easier.
Hamlin finished fifth at Richmond, but he didn’t seem pleased with his performance and wants to be sharper this weekend.
“I think the responsibility I carry is I have to give information a little bit quicker to them because (Wheeler), I tell him what it’s doing, bam, he comes up with a change right away,” Hamlin said “I think they want to be more methodical so they don’t make mistakes. They have to enter it into a computer. Let’s change this. You have to just do things a little bit ‑‑ give them a little more advanced notice when things aren’t going well.”
Hamlin has 31 wins and no Cup championship, and he’s the winningest driver without a title. He’ll be looking to change that trend starting on Sunday at Chicagoland.
(h/t NBC Sports)