Homestead, FL – Denny Hamlin salvaged a miserable season with a compelling victory in the Ford EcoBoost 400, the season finale for NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series. Driving the FedEx Express Toyota, Hamlin led five times, including the final 24 circuits en route to the victory.
The win ended his victory draught and propelled him to his 23rd Sprint Cup win in 291 races, and gave him a win in seven consecutive seasons. This is his first victory of the season and his second win at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. His last win came in New Hampshire 14 months ago.
His winning Toyota was one of three from Joe Gibbs Racing.
“It has been a horrible year, and I was counting down the laps figuring I couldn’t keep my victory streak going, but I knew right away on the first run that we were going to have a shot at it. I knew that (crew chief) Darien Grubb had given me a car that was capable of winning. As bad as the year has been, this win will give us solace from this finish and spend these next few months re-grouping and getting our team back in order. I feel like there’s no reason we can’t shoot out of the gate in 2014 just like we did in 2010.”
Added Grubb, “It was a really good day and an all-out team effort, but the strategy didn’t go our way after the first caution, as we were the only car to stay out. The pit crew did an incredible job and we gained positions on each stop.”
Team co-owner J. D. Gibbs commented, “This to me was one of the best wins we have had at Joe Gibbs Racing, as it capped off a combination of good things.”
Matt Kenseth earned his 20th top-10 finish in 2013 and combined with his seven victories, he had an outstanding year in his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing. He led seven times for 144 laps, and he was always at or near the front, as he was determined to win in hopes of capturing the Sprint Cup championship.
He drove the Dollar General Toyota.
“It was a really great night for us,” he said. “I am proud of everyone at JGR, Kyle (Busch) and Denny (Hamlin). Denny’s win is what we all needed honestly. We had a good night – we were really dominant when the sun was out, but we struggled a bit after it went down. A lot of that lies on the driver, who was a little reluctant to get up into the groove where I needed to be to make speed. I really wanted to win tonight, but overall, a great day and a great season.”
Earnhardt, who led 28 laps and battled hard for the lead, took third in the National Guard Chevrolet. Once again, he was chagrined not to win when he ran so well. While battling for the lead and ultimately getting it, the crowd stood and cheered lap after lap.
“It is a little disappointing, as we had such a good car and couldn’t capitalize,” he said. “It was just real hard to get by those guys at the end. They were protecting their position and Matt (Kenseth) was working hard to get points. We beat and banged a little bit; it was fun racing.”
Fourth and fifth were the Toyotas of Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer.
Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top-10 finishers.
Johnson’s ninth-place finish earned him the Sprint Cup championship for the sixth time.
”I am at a loss for words, and I don’t even know where to start,” he said. “I am so glad that Jeff Gordon and Rick Hendrick gave me this opportunity back in 2002. This sport is about people, and our people on the 48 car rose up and got the job done. I am so honored and so excited to have a six-pack.”
Johnson had a fright in the late going when he got caught in a jam on a restart slightly damaging his car, and dropping him back in the standings. That made the last 50 laps kind of interesting.”
In a scary incident involving Paul Menard on the 232nd lap, his Chevrolet caught fire while circling the track and when he stopped to have the car checked out, the right rear tire exploded, yanking the wheel assembly from the car. While his pit crew was alongside the car, they were not injured, although the tire changer was knocked down. No injuries were sustained.
“That was pretty wild,” Menard said. “On a previous restart, we got some right rear damage and had a flat tire. I guess a bunch of rubber got wrapped around the axle. We tried to get it off but couldn’t get it all, and I guess it just caught fire. I got out of the car as quick as I could.”
In total, eight caution flags consumed 37 laps.
The 2013 Sprint Cup season has ended, and according to officials, the 2014 Daytona 500 takes in 98 days.