SONOMA, Calif. —
Hamlin then talked about his “wheelhouse” portion of the schedule coming up — the fast, slick tracks where he typically excels and could make some noise again in his championship bid.
Only problem? “We’re not running that strong, we’re not running as strong as the Chase guys right now,” he said. “You have to earn it. You can’t just expect other guys to make mistakes.”
And that’s the problem right now with the No. 11 car, Hamlin said, and not the fractured vertebra that kept him out of the car and put him in this hole.
It’s an important distinction because, when Hamlin was healing, he said if he couldn’t save the season he’d consider pulling the plug and focus on getting his back 100 percent healthy. That could involve surgery, or rehabilitation, but it was an option he tossed out there.
He was quick Sunday to dismiss his back injury as the performance problem.
“I feel fine. There’s nothing that I feel in the car that keeps me from performing better,” he insisted. “Missed the setup a couple weeks and had bad stuff happen. It’s just frustrating — can’t get a finish.”
When asked if he’s still considering getting out of the car this year, Hamlin said it’s too soon.
“Not until it absolutely can’t happen, or even think about it,” he said. “Really, like I said, my physical status is not keeping me from performing well. It’s other things at this point.”
Those other things are that Hamlin doesn’t believe his Toyota is at the same performance level as JGR teammates Kenseth and Kyle Busch. In the six races he’s been back, Kenseth has a win and Busch has four top-six finishes. While Hamlin was on the same pace as his teammates when he first returned, he believes he’s taken a step back in the last few weeks.