Coming off a dismal finish a week ago, Denny Hamlin vowed to win the next race, the Sylvania 300 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and he did just that even though he started in the back after a faulty qualification run.
In spite of starting 28th today, Hamlin pledged to advance into the top-10 within 100 laps and not only did he succeed but he led at the 100-mile mark. In total, the Virginia driver led 193 of the 300 laps around the mile track, dominating the second-round action in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
This is the kind of race you dream about.
Asked about his prediction for winning the race, the winner said. “The pressure of making that statement crossed my mind, but around lap 50, I knew we had the car to win the race, but there are other things you can’t control that can keep you out of victory lane. For me, that was the most nerve-racking thing on my mind, and I just thought, ‘Let’s not find a way to lose this one.’ But it gave me extra motivation to prove myself right.”
Hamlin’s winning margin was 2.5 seconds. Prior to a late race caution period, Hamlin had built up more than a six-second lead.
He won for the fifth time in the 2012 season and the 22nd Sprint Cup career victory.
For team owner Joe Gibbs and the Joe Gibbs Racing team, the acclaimed team scored its 100th Sprint Cup victory with Hamlin scoring 22 of them, Tony Stewart 33 and Kyle Busch 20.
Commenting on his driver and crew chief (Darian Grubb), he complimented their capacity to handle adversity, a condition that has plagued the team in recent weeks.
Said Grubb, “This is the best car in our race shop, and knew it would give us our best shot to win. We just wanted to give Denny every chance to get the win. We were just disappointed we didn’t qualifying the way we should have.”
Jimmie Johnson advanced from his 20th starting position to finish a strong second in the Lowe’s Chevrolet with teammate Jeff Gordon on his heels for third place in the Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet.
Said Johnson, “We had a great race car but not an amazing one. We were best in class today. We missed a little bit on speed and the No. 11 had us covered. When I got up there, I seemed to be able to run there all day. On the last restart, I tried to get a good start on the outside of him but once I hit the first turn, I hit a paving seam and couldn’t turn and I knew the No. 24 was coming. I had a little bit of hope for a moment but I wanted to hold on to second, pulling away a little bit.
“Those guys (Hamlin) have found something of late. At Richmond, the race didn’t go their way but long story short, you can have the best car, but you don’t always win. Today, they covered the race, executed well and got the job done.”
Regarding taking the point lead, Johnson added. “To leave only seven points on the table in two races isn’t bad.”
After the disappointing outcome a week ago, Gordon was pleased with his team’s turn-around. “It was a solid effort,” he said. “We didn’t quite have the car today but with our third place, it was a total team effort. We just have to keep having good finishes in the races ahead.
Brad Keselowski, Stewart, Joey Logano, Brian Vickers and Ryan Newman rounded out the top-10 finishers.
Fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. ended up 13th and was never in contention with the front-runners.
With Johnson’s strong run, he took over first place in points, leading Brad Keselowski by one marker. Hamlin moved into third place trailed by Stewart, Kahne, Bowyer, Earnhardt, Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle, Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth and Gordon.
Four non-racing accidents slowed the race for 17 laps.
The Sprint Cup Series journeys to the Dover International Speedway next weekend.
Story by: Joe Jennings, NASCAR Correspondent