Denny Hamlin overcame adversity that started on Friday and ended on Sunday. Hamlin held off Kyle Larson on a late race restart to score his first win of the season not only for himself but for his Joe Gibbs Racing team.
Hamlin led 54 laps, but took the lead for the final time on a restart after the race’s sixth and final caution on lap 267.
“I know we’ve been getting better and better as the year goes on,” Hamlin said. “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.”
From there Larson, who overcame adversity of his own, slowly chipped away at the lead. He ran out of time however and Hamlin won by just over a half a second. Larson won the pole on Friday but had his time disallowed after failing post qualifying inspection. For the second week in a row, Larson started from the rear of the field and battled back to finish second.
“I was catching him a couple tenths of a lap there,” Larson said. ”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, 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.”
Martin Truex Jr. led a race high 137 laps, won the first stage and nearly scored his second consecutive win having won last week at Kentucky. He slipped on that final restart and fought back managing to come home third.
“We still had a shot,” Truex said. “But on the last restart we got the inside lane there, restarted third. It wasn’t the place to be, obviously. I think the 11 started fourth and that was really the place I would have liked to have been. And then we just didn’t get a good restart on the bottom and lost a couple spots and had to battle back and then just didn’t quite have the speed at the end of the race that we had the first 200 laps.”
Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick filled out the top five.
Hamlin won the 30th race of his Cup career in a backup car after crashing his primary car in practice on Friday. It was his charge to the front of the field on the final restart that saw Hamlin win his first Cup race since Texas last year.
“I put us behind on Friday with the backup car getting in a wreck,” Hamlin said. “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. This is a total team effort all around.”
For much of the day however, Hamlin was not the JGR car that looked to be the one that would take the pre-season favorite team back to victory lane.
JGR driver Kyle Busch led the second most laps of the day, 95, and won the second stage, but two pit road speeding penalties left him with a 12th place finish.
Daniel Suarez finished sixth, Clint Bowyer seventh, with Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson rounding out the top 10.
There was a brief five-and-a-half-minute red flag as a small hole appeared in the track entering turn 3 just after Stage 1 ended. Track workers were able to make quick repairs and there were no other issues the rest of the race.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series heads to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Brickyard 400 next Sunday with live coverage on NBC starting at 3:00 p.m. ET.
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