Sunday, September 23, 2012

Hamlin Owns New Hampshire

After running out of gas on the last lap in the Geico 400, Denny Hamlin tweeted, "This is week 1 of 10. We will win next week."  Though Hamlin rescinded his comments on Friday, he dominated the Sylvania 300, leading 193 of 300 laps.

Hamlin celebrates his win (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon led the field to the green flag, and was able to pull ahead to take the lead.  On lap four, Gordon slipped coming out of Turn 2, and Tony Stewart was able to take the lead away from the 24.  Gordon began to fall back, and was passed by Kyle Busch on lap 11.  Busch began catching Stewart when he began to get into lapped traffic, but the first caution of the day came out before he could make a pass for the lead.  The competition caution came out on lap 41, and all the leaders made their first pit stops of the day.  Gordon beat Busch and Stewart off of pit road first, and became the leader.

Gordon led the field back to the green flag on lap 46, leading Busch and Stewart.  Coming out of Turn 2, Busch was able to take the lead after Gordon chose to restart on the inside lane.  On lap 73, Kasey Kahne chased down Gordon to take second place.  On lap 83, Denny Hamlin, who started 28th, got around Kahne to take away second place.  Hamlin had been running very strong, and set his sights on his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate. 

Kyle Busch leads Jeff Gordon (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
On lap 94, Hamlin got around Busch heading into Turn 1 to take the lead.  On lap 105, Jamie McMurray, Joey Logano, and Juan Pablo Montoya brought their cars in to start a round of green-flag pit stops.  Hamlin gave up the lead on lap 109 to make his stop.  Brad Keselowski gave up the lead on lap 113 to make his pit stop, and the lead cycled back around to Hamlin.  On lap 129, the race's second caution came out for debris.  Kasey Kahne and Jimmie Johnson were among a group of drivers that came in to stop under the caution. 

Hamlin led Busch, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr., and Matt Kenseth to the green flag on lap 134.  Kahne restarted sixth, and he was the first car in line who had made stopped under the caution.  On lap 164, Johnson was able to get around Busch for second place.  On lap 170, Kahne got under him for third as well.  Busch radioed in to his crew and said that his car may be losing power. 

The caution came out for debris on lap 178, and the leaders came in to make pit stops.  Brian Vickers, driving the 55 car this weekend, got out first, and was followed by Hamlin, Logano, Johnson, and Bowyer.  The race restarted on lap 184, and Vickers was able to pull ahead of Hamlin to take the lead coming out of Turn 2.  But Hamlin got a good run coming off the corner, and got under Vickers through Turns 3 and 4.  The next lap, Hamlin regained the lead coming out of Turn 2. 

Vickers leads the field on an early restart (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
On lap 203, Hamlin's team noticed that he had a large piece of debris on his grille, and it was causing the car's engine temperature to go higher and higher.  Before he could get it cleared off, he got another large piece of debris on his grille, causing Hamlin to have to shut off his fans.  But on lap 209, Kyle Busch slowed going down the backstretch, allowing Hamlin to catch up and get the piece of trash off his grille.

On lap 246, in the midst of green flag stops, Hamlin gave up the lead to make his final pit stops.  Brad Keselowski pulled off on lap 248 to make his pit stop, cycling the lead back around to Denny Hamlin.  The fourth caution of the day flew on lap 272 for debris, erasing a five-second gap that Hamlin had on Johnson.  The first seven drivers stayed out, while the rest of the field pitted.

Hamlin led Johnson, Bowyer, Gordon, and Keselowski to the green flag.  Hamlin was able to clear Johnson heading into Turn 1, and Gordon dove in front of Bowyer after getting a great restart.  Hamlin checked out when the race restarted, and Johnson wasn't able to catch him.  Hamlin would win his fifth race of the season, and the 100th race for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Hamlin leads Clint Bowyer (Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson finished second, followed by his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon.  Clint Bowyer finished fourth, followed by Kasey Kahne.  Brad Keselowski, Tony Stewart, Joey Logano, Brian Vickers, and Ryan Newman rounded out the Top 10.  Kevin Harvick finished 11th.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. struggled all day, and finished 13th.  Matt Kenseth finished 14th, while Martin Truex Jr. and Greg Biffle finished 17th and 18th, respectively.  Carl Edwards ran outside the Top 20 most of the day, and finished 19th.  Kyle Busch finished 28th after having engine troubles halfway through the race.

Jimmie Johnson has regained the points lead, and Denny Hamlin has closed in to within seven points of Johnson.  Here are the unofficial points, courtesy of
Denny Hamlin arrived at New Hampshire knowing that he and his team had a car capable of winning the race.  He had some problems when his team put the wrong air pressures into the car, and he qualified 28th.  But he made up the distance to dominate the race, and putting everyone in the Chase on notice.  And for the second week in a row, Jimmie Johnson finished second, failing to win once again.  Tune in next week to see how the points shake out, when the Sprint Cup Series rolls into Dover International Speedway for the AAA 400.  The race can be seen at 1 p.m., only on ESPN.

(Geoff Burke/Getty Images)

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