Denny Hamlin’s championship hopes were in dire jeopardy early in Sunday’s race, when the rear tire changer’s air gun knocked off the valve stem and flattened the tire, forcing Hamlin to return to the pits.
Hamlin twice went a lap down to race winner Kevin Harvick, only to get the laps back as the “lucky dog,” the highest-scored lapped car.
But when Hamlin needed a strong performance from his crew late in the race, the over-the-wall gang was up to the challenge.
On Hamlin’s final pit stop, Hamlin’s pit crew gained three positions for the driver of the No. 11 Toyota, boosting him from eighth to 11th in the running order and giving Hamlin the working margin he needed to advance to the season finale at Homestead with championship eligibility.
Ultimately, Hamlin came home fifth and had nothing but praise for his crew in the aftermath of a stressful race.
“They're probably the reason that we're in this position anyway,” Hamlin said. “I've been riding their coattails for most of the year. What they do for me on pit road, and obviously law of averages, every now and then, that stone is going to hit you, and it hit you that first pit stop, and luckily it was the first one. If it was later in the day, we were not going to overcome it.
“But you know, yeah, it's crazy that that mistake is what put us back there, but they made up for it tenfold throughout the entire day with great stops. It's great to have them on your side, knowing that you've got the fastest pit crew on pit lane going into a one race shootout. I like my chances.”