Denny Hamlin overcomes Texas sized issues to win as NASCAR’s new package shines

FORT WORTH, TX - MARCH 31: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Office Toyota, celebrates in victory lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on March 31, 2019 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

For a good portion of Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway Sunday Denny Hamlin was having a bad day at work.

After starting sixth the Joe Gibbs Racing driver was in contention near the top five. On lap 65 however, it appeared Hamlin’s race would take a big hit when he was penalized for speeding during a round of green flag stops.

Helped in part by teams on differing pit strategies, Hamlin was able to fight his way back and took the lead from his JGR teammate Kyle Busch on lap 160. He would hold that lead and win the second stage.

During the round of ensuing pit stops though, Hamlin’s crew was penalized for an uncontrolled tire. That put him back to 17th.

Later needing a green flag stop Hamlin nearly spun out and missed pit road. The crew then fumbled on the stop.

He never gave up and his pit strategy paid off as he was third by lap 260, took the lead on lap 303 when teammate Erik Jones pitted then regained the lead after a clean pit stop under green on lap 322.

Hamlin would hold on to lead the final 14 laps for his second win of the season by 2.7 seconds over Clint Bowyer. He now joins teammate Busch as the only repeat winner of 2019. Daniel Suarez was a season high third with Jones and polesitter Jimmie Johnson rounding out the top five.

“Our car was really, really fast,” Hamlin said. “We obviously saw that.  Once we got out front, we were able to pull away from the pack a little bit.  Got a little bit loose when we were racing our teammates in the 18 and the 20.  So wasn’t able to be as aggressive as I was earlier in the race.  We had a super fast car.  That’s why we won.”

JGR has now won four of the seven Cup races this season and Sunday had its three cars in the top 10.

For the team who has won the other three the day was not as good.

The trio racing for Team Penske looked good early on. Joey Logano won the first stage, but the trouble for the team started just a few laps later. On lap 91, Brad Keselowski pitted saying his Ford had lost drive. The team was forced to take the car to the garage for lengthy repairs.  He would return but finished 36th 55 laps down.

Logano had issues with the hood on his Ford. It appeared to be ready to vibrate at speed and fly open any second. He pitted for repairs on lap 154. He finished 27th one lap down.

That left Ryan Blaney to carry the Team Penske banner. He gave it a valiant effort taking the lead on lap 173 and keeping the top spot for 45 laps. An engine issue on lap 255 slowed the driver who pitted and was soon being pushed to the garage. That’s where he finished in 37th place.

The racing with NASCAR’s new aero package seemed to deliver the desired results as no driver was able to get too far ahead of the field and the race featured a great deal of pack racing and passing all through the field.  There were 26 lead changes; in this race last year there were 16 and 16 in the fall race.

“There was a lot of excitement,” Johnson said. “I was thoroughly mad a couple of times, and I made others thoroughly mad a couple of times. So I don’t know how that translates to TV, but it was heated in there for sure. For 500 miles to race like that hard every single lap I hope it translates to good TV for sure.”

William Byron with his new crew chief Chad Knaus had his best finish of 2019 in sixth.  Aric Almirola was seventh followed by Kevin Harvick, and Kurt Busch. Kyle Busch who led the most laps on the day 66, had a brush with wall late and had to settle for 10th.

The second win of the season for Hamlin comes after a disappointing 2018 which saw him winless.  He has now won two 500 mile races, including his second Daytona 500.

“We tried every way we could to give it away, and we found a way to do it,” Hamlin said in victory lane.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Bristol Motor Speedway next Sunday for the Food City 500.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race Results O’Reilly Auto Parts 500
Texas Motor Speedway
Fort Worth, Texas
Sunday, March 31, 2019

1. (6)  Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 334.

2. (25)  Clint Bowyer, Ford, 334.

3. (4)  Daniel Suarez, Ford, 334.

4. (11)  Erik Jones, Toyota, 334.

5. (1)  Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 334.

6. (2)  William Byron, Chevrolet, 334.

7. (21)  Aric Almirola, Ford, 334.

8. (23)  Kevin Harvick, Ford, 334.

9. (30)  Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 334.

10. (16)  Kyle Busch, Toyota, 334.

11. (18)  Ryan Newman, Ford, 334.

12. (20)  Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 334.

13. (3)  Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 334.

14. (5)  Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 334.

15. (15)  Michael McDowell, Ford, 334.

16. (17)  Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 333.

17. (8)  Joey Logano, Ford, 333.

18. (24)  Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 333.

19. (14)  Paul Menard, Ford, 333.

20. (19)  Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 333.

21. (9)  Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 332.

22. (27)  Ryan Preece #, Chevrolet, 332.

23. (10)  Bubba Wallace, Chevrolet, 332.

24. (29)  Matt Tifft #, Ford, 332.

25. (28)  David Ragan, Ford, 331.

26. (26)  Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 331.

27. (33)  Parker Kligerman(i), Toyota, 330.

28. (31)  Corey LaJoie, Ford, 330.

29. (35)  Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, 329.

30. (32)  Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 326.

31. (34)  BJ McLeod(i), Chevrolet, 325.

32. (38)  Garrett Smithley(i), Chevrolet, 325.

33. (7)  Daniel Hemric #, Chevrolet, 324.

34. (37)  Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 322.

35. (36)  Bayley Currey(i), Ford, 320.

36. (12)  Brad Keselowski, Ford, 279.

37. (13)  Ryan Blaney, Ford, Overheating, 225.

38. (39)  Timmy Hill(i), Toyota, Clutch, 168.

39. (22)  Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, Accident, 147.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  153.224 mph.

Time of Race:  3 Hrs, 16 Mins, 11 Secs. Margin of Victory:  2.743 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  5 for 29 laps.

Lead Changes:  26 among 13 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   J. Johnson 1-59;J. Logano 60;A. Dillon 61-62;K. Busch 63-65;W. Byron 66-79;C. Bowyer 80-82;J. Logano 83-88;M. Truex Jr. 89-98;K. Busch 99-108;C. Elliott 109-143;J. Logano 144;K. Busch 145-155;D. Hamlin 156-172;R. Blaney 173-217;D. Suarez 218-220;K. Busch 221-238;J. Johnson 239;D. Suarez 240-245;K. Busch 246-257;A. Almirola 258-260;E. Jones 261-263;K. Busch 264-275;E. Jones 276-302;D. Hamlin 303-318;W. Byron 319;A. Dillon 320-322;D. Hamlin 323-334.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  Kyle Busch 6 times for 66 laps; Jimmie Johnson 2 times for 60 laps; Denny Hamlin 3 times for 45 laps; Ryan Blaney 1 time for 45 laps; Chase Elliott 1 time for 35 laps; Erik Jones 2 times for 30 laps; William Byron 2 times for 15 laps; Martin Truex Jr. 1 time for 10 laps; Daniel Suarez 2 times for 9 laps; Joey Logano 3 times for 8 laps; Austin Dillon 2 times for 5 laps; Clint Bowyer 1 time for 3 laps; Aric Almirola 1 time for 3 laps.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 22,48,9,3,12,21,41,18,42,37

Stage #2 Top Ten: 11,12,41,18,21,6,17,24,34,48


Greg Engle