Camry driver Denny Hamlin earned his fourth victory of the season in Sunday night's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) race at the 1.54-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway and clinched his position in the 'Chase for the Sprint Cup,' which will begin at Chicagoland Speedway in two weeks.
Hamlin led the field seven times for 105 laps (of 327) to claim his 21st career NSCS victory, his 18th win driving a Toyota and his inaugural NSCS win at the Atlanta speedway. This is the seventh victory of the season for Camry drivers and 46th since Toyota joined the series in 2007.
Camry driver Martin Truex Jr. led once for 40 laps finished fourth in the race. Truex clinched a spot in the 10-race Chase along with his teammate Clint Bowyer -- the first Chase seeds for Michael Waltrip Racing. Kyle Busch (sixth) and Mark Martin (10th) also earned top-10 results for Toyota at Atlanta.
Other Camry drivers in the field included Joey Logano (18th), Bobby Labonte (19th), Landon Cassill (20th), Travis Kvapil (26th), Bowyer (27th), Jason Leffler (38th), David Stremme (39th), Reed Sorenson (42nd) and Joe Nemechek (43rd).
Four Camry drivers are in the top-15 in the unofficial NSCS driver point standings following Atlanta -- Truex (fifth), Hamlin (seventh), Bowyer (eighth) and Busch (12th).
Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Sport Clips Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing - Finishing Position: 1st
How bad did you want to win at Atlanta? "This was one I wanted real bad -- last week was a big one, no doubt about it. I've been really good here at Atlanta the last year and not won. We wore our splitter out and I didn't have anything left there at the end. Our car faded a little bit, but the pit crew won me the race.
That's what a championship team is all about is to have all those pieces of the puzzle put together and this year I think we have it all."
How happy are you with the win? "I'm 70 percent happy for us and 30 percent sad for Michael (Waltrip) and Martin Truex and those guys. One way or another -- some shape or form, they are teammates of ours -- Toyota teammates. I can't say enough about Sport Clips coming on board for this race -- thank FedEx for everything they've done for 35 races of the schedule. Gosh, this is a big win."
What does this win say about your team for the Chase? "I don't say anything -- wins is all that matters."
Did your pit crew win this race? "They nailed it -- there is nothing else I can say about it. They were just on it all day long. This is a testament to the team that Darian Grubb (crew chief) has assembled. He has assembled a championship-caliber team.
Honestly, it starts with Mike Ford -- he put 90 percent of these guys together and kind of guided us to where we're at and now Darian has just taken over and we've been taking off ever since then. I have to thank both of those guys."
What crossed your mind battling Jeff Gordon for the win? "Two things -- I wanted to win to be the number one seed. Second, that was going to knock my teammate out of the Chase and I am not for that.
I'm a Joe Gibbs guy and I always will be for the life of me and I'm going to do whatever it takes to get as many cars in there because it helps me -- we need Kyle (Busch) in there, we need Joey (Logano) in there and if Jeff (Gordon) won that race, it was going to be all over. We had to do what we had to do."
What does it mean to know you will be the number one seed when the Chase starts? "It means a lot. I look at Richmond as a race we're going to go win. That's my track -- it's my best track arguably and I just think we have a lot of momentum now and for what it's worth, I will try to take advantage of it."
Were you of the implications on your teammate if Jeff Gordon won the race? "Well, I knew first and foremost I couldn't let him (Jeff Gordon) get around me. I knew that that was my number one priority. If we would have got side by side, I don't know what would have happened because I knew he -- I couldn't let him get to the line first, and so for me, it's in my mind, it was in my mind last week racing Carl (Edwards) for the lead in Bristol.
Having more cars in the Chase for (Joe) Gibbs Racing helps me. As crazy as that sounds, we need another car in the Chase. It's important for us. So I'm going to do everything I can to be the good teammate and try to take the wins away from those guys when I can."
Darian Grubb, crew chief, No. 11 Sport Clips Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
How many scenarios did you see in tonight's race? "It was a pretty interesting night all the way around, just the way all the scenarios worked out. We were one of the only cars that could have done it on one more stop with fuel there with 105 to go or something like that.
It's hard to play those games because even Denny (Hamlin) was getting upset that we were having to go so slow at the end of these runs and watching (Kevin) Harvick pull away.
But we did our pit stops, and in 14 laps we were right on his bumper again. You play through those scenarios, the fuel mileage, the tire windows and the car. Denny did a great job managing that tonight, and it all came down to that last pit and the pit crew did an incredible job, never missed a beat. We had a couple of hiccups starting off the night, but they rebounded and showed their championship form and did it when it counted."
Martin Truex Jr., No. 56 NAPA Shocks Toyota Camry, Michael Waltrip Racing - Finishing Position: 4th
What happened on the final restart? "Just spun the tires. All night long I had trouble when I was on the outside with spinning the tires. As soon as I went to third gear, it was really strange -- usually I get it into second and then when you get to third you're okay.
I'd be okay in second and be right there with him and get to third at the start-finish line and just smoke the tires like a dragster. It just wasn't meant to be again I guess."
Were you happy with your run tonight? "Yes and no. It sure would have been nice to get a win. We've been pretty close here lately. It just sucks when you have one locked up like that and a caution comes out. That's the way it goes and we weren't good enough on restarts. Just wasn't good enough tonight."
Will you be happy about making the Chase tomorrow? "There will be plenty of positives tomorrow. It's tough losing when you haven't won in a long time. People keep asking, 'When are you going to win? When are you going to win?' We're close. Just sucks we couldn't get it done tonight."
Chad Johnson, crew chief, No. 56 NAPA Shocks Toyota Camry, Michael Waltrip Racing
What does making the Chase mean to this organization? "Obviously, it's a big deal for us, big deal for NAPA, big deal for MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing). Feels pretty good going into Richmond knowing that you're locked in and that you don't have to do anything special. We'll just have to go see what we can do with them next week."
Could you have stayed out during the final pit stop? "You could've, but you would have got ate up on tires. You go 300 laps and not have one right front tire failure, then tree laps to go you have one fail. It is what it is. We had trouble getting going on the restarts. If we had four or five laps, we probably would have had something for them. All in all, a good day. It was nice to get that NAPA Shocks Toyota running up front, so we'll move on to Richmond."
Michael Waltrip, team owner, Michael Waltrip Racing
How special is this accomplishment to your team? "Tonight is what NASCAR racing is all about. We're so disappointed that Martin (Truex Jr.) didn't win and then we have to be thankful we're in the Chase and it looks like both cars are in -- or two of our three are in and another top-10 run by the Rodney Childers' (crew chief) 55 car (Mark Martin).
I don't know -- you're supposed to be happy when you race and you have success, but somehow we were able to rob the joy of making the Chase. I don't know how, but we did. We just thought we had it won and Jamie (McMurray) had a flat tire. There was nothing we could do about that and we didn't win."
What has the journey been like for your team to get here? "I don't like to look at the journey as having a destination today. It has one some time, but this is just a point along the way. As bad as everything looked in '07 and as good as it looks now, you just -- if you'd have took a snapshot of '07 you would have quit.
If you took one of now, you might be satisfied. I will never give up and I will never be satisfied. I just keep going and keep trying. Hopefully, the people that have trusted me and this team and Rob (Kauffman, co-owner) with their money will be rewarded ion the end. I'm thankful. I'm happy, but it's just a point along the way. We're going to keep going."
Kyle Bush, No. 18 Wrigley Doublemint Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing - Finishing Position: 6th
How was your race? "Overall the night was good for us, our car was fast -- we qualified up front, ran up front and stayed up there. We had a good long run car there.
We ran third to sixth there most of the night so that was pretty good. There the last pit stop we just didn't have what we needed there and came out ninth. Had to pass a few cars and got by a few cars and finished sixth. Our teammate did us justice tonight and kept the 24 (Jeff Gordon) from victory lane so that was good."
What is your outlook for Richmond? "Richmond is definitely a place where we would like to go win, obviously that would really set things easy for whats going to happen in the Chase.
If we're not capable of winning then we need to know what else our game plan is going to be -- I'm not sure what he points are right now, but I'm sure everyone will figure that out."
Was your goal tonight to either win or control your destiny for the Richmond race? "For sure. If we couldn't win the race today then our goal was to run strong and finish top-five. We missed the top-five by one, felt like we could have been there and should have been there. Overall, the guys fought hard all night with the Doublemint Camry and felt like we made some good adjustments all night to keep ourselves up there so it was good."
Do you feel confident you can make the Chase? "I feel normal. I'm not saying that I'm for sure going to be in at all -- anything can happen. Jeff (Gordon) is no slouch at Richmond either -- he will be fine. I feel like that's the guy we're racing -- the 24 car. We'll just have to see how it all plays out. Jeff could give us a run for our money."
Mark Martin, No. 55 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota Camry, Michael Waltrip Racing - Finishing Position: 10th
How was your race? "We had really a lot better race car than we finished. It's just we got set back several times. Most of them were my fault. I had a couple of really bad situations I got myself in on restarts a couple times and got us way behind."
Source: Toyota Motorsport