There was no doubt that Denny Hamlin knew he was in for a long night when he climbed behind the wheel of his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway.
The JGR driver was already locked in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, but he faced 400 laps around the 0.75-mile short track with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Hamlin suffered the injury during a basketball game last Tuesday night.
Hamlin downplayed the injury throughout the weekend, saying it would not set the team back. And that proved to be the case during Saturday night's Federated Auto Parts 400.
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Starting 25th, Hamlin had one of the fastest cars in the field and wasted no time moving forward. As each of the four JGR cars raced to the front, Hamlin followed suit and was a factor inside the top five throughout much of the night, leading twice for a total of 14 laps.
As teammate Matt Kenseth dominated the race and drove off to his fourth victory of the year, Hamlin slipped to sixth when the checkered flag flew. The sixth-place finish was Hamlin's 13th top 10 of the season, but ended a streak of three consecutive top-five finishes.
"Short run, long run, it didn't matter, we were just a little bit off. We finished sixth -- right where we came out of the pits on that last stop," said Hamlin. "I wish we could've kept our streak of top fives going in a row. ... But either way, it was a pretty good run for us."
Downplaying the ACL injury before the race, Hamlin climbed from the car gingerly after the race and quickly iced his knee while sitting on the pit wall.
"I wasn't limited in the car at all," he said. "You really don't notice anything until you stop. And that's the biggest thing is as soon as I stopped it's just feeling the throbbing. Feeling your heart beating in your knee. Just tightened up there toward the end, but we just didn't have a fast enough car to win."
While all of the JGR cars are showing speed and entering the final 10 Chase races with momentum on their side, Hamlin -- whose lone victory came at Martinsville Speedway in March -- would like to have more notches in the win column.
"The only concern I have is not winning," he said. "We're always in the mix with those Gibbs cars. We're always running as good as the second-place guy. Our consistency has been really good these last few months and that's something you've got to have in the Chase. We definitely would like to win races and we're going to hopefully get that done next week. I'm proud of this team. We've really stepped up these last couple months with our consistency."