Denny Hamlin reigns again in NASCAR after taking the checkered flag in New Hampshire, ending long winless droughts for himself and Joe Gibbs Racing.
The victory gave Joe Gibbs Racing its first win of 2017, making this the farthest the team has gone into a season without a victory in many years. It also ended a 28 race winless drought for Hamlin, who admitted earlier in the weekend he was feeling the pressure of not having a win and wanting to make the playoffs.
“It’s a great feeling,” Hamlin said. “I know we’ve been getting better and better as the year goes on, but definitely needed a win for the organization and for myself and just kind of get some momentum going with the playoffs are coming up, so we’ve got to get going. Really this is awesome.”
Following Hamlin was Kyle Larson second, then Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick fifth. Daniel Suarez finished sixth, then Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson rounding out the top-10.
In order to score his 30th career win, Hamlin took the lead for the final time with just more than 30 laps remaining.
A caution for Ryan Newman spinning in Turn 2 with 38 laps to go brought the entire field to pit road. Race leader Kenseth and his crew gambled and took two tires, while the rest of the field took four tires. Also, Dale Earnhardt Jr. took a major gamble and stayed out to get track position.
Neither gambles worked out for the two drivers, and Hamlin took the lead shortly after the green flag waved to resume the race.
Hamlin jumped out to a two second lead at one point. Larson found himself in second, chasing Hamlin down as the race neared completion.
Larson was faster than Hamlin and was catching him as Hamlin entered lapped traffic. With three laps to go Larson had all but caught Hamlin. But a couple miscues on Larson’s part allowed Hamin to keep the lead and snag his third win at the one mile track.
“(Kyle Larson and the No. 42 team) have just been so fast this year and we honestly haven’t been able to keep up and so for us to be able to get the lead there, stretch it out – I knew it was going to be important for me to stretch out the lead as far as I could, that way I could pace myself at the end of the race and it was just enough,” Hamlin said of holding off Larson.
Larson, who led just one lap after he fought his way from starting in the rear after failing post qualifying inspection Friday to the front, said as the final run went on, his car started to go away.
“I was catching him a couple tenths of a lap there, and then it seemed like when I got kind of close there, I don’t know, within four or five car lengths at the end, my lap times kind of evened off a little bit with him,” he said. “I started getting too tight on exit, and I couldn’t carry the speed on exit like I needed to. I’d gain a lot on him on entry, but I couldn’t keep the power down and keep the front turning on exit there that last run.”
Hamlin led 54 laps on the day, but still wasn’t the most as Truex and Kyle Busch dominated the day, leading 137 and 95 laps respectively. Busch got caught speeding on pit road during the final caution, but rebounded to finish 12th.
The win was even more of a surprise for Hamlin because he was driving a backup car. On Friday, Hamlin lost control of the car coming off Turn 4 and hit the inside wall, forcing his team to scrap the primary car.
“I put us behind on Friday with the backup car getting in a wreck, but this – I really wish we would race that car that was in the hauler, but this one they did a great job getting it as close as they could working on the balance, getting it good yesterday and team effort,” Hamlin said. “This is a total team effort all around.”
Next week NASCAR heads to the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Brickyard 400. The race is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. ET on NBC
Zach Horrall is a NASCAR reporter for the Indiana Sports Report and is recognized as an accredited member of the media by NASCAR and has full media access. Follow @ZHorrallBU and the @IndySportsRep on Twitter.
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