Denny Hamlin became a first timer Saturday. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver won at Dover International Speedway for the first time in his NASCAR Cup career sailing past teammate Marin Truex Jr. with 8 laps to go to win his sixth race of the season by 1.179 seconds.
“People always ask what your least favorite track is, and I say Dover just because I’m not that good,” Hamlin said. “I love the track; I just haven’t been very good here. We just have unbelievable cars right now. It seems like we’re coming to the racetrack prepared. I’m putting the work in and we’re getting results out of it.”
It was a dominating day for Hamlin who swept both stages and led the most laps, 115 of 311, as Joe Gibbs Racing scored a 1-2-3 finish with Kyle Busch finishing third behind Truex.
Kevin Harvick was fourth with pole-starter Chase Elliott completing the top five.
Elliott led the field from pole with the first caution coming out on lap 7 when Erik Jones tagged Kurt Busch coming out of turn 2. Busch’s Chevy was sent nose first into the inside wall and he was done for the day. Jones’ Toyota was damaged, but he was able to continue; Alex Bowman ran into Jones when they checked up, but he was also able to continue. Jones hung on to finish 12th, Bowman 21st.
A final round of green flag stops began with 60 laps to go. Truex was able to get out ahead of Hamlin, and after the stops cycled through had a near 2 second lead over Hamlin. In the final 15 laps, it was a two-car race with Busch third just over 5 seconds behind the leader.
Hamlin would not be denied grabbing the lead in the closing laps for the final time and cruising to victory.
“I’ve been running down the leaders these last few weeks, but I haven’t been able to get there,” Hamlin said. “We just didn’t control that restart there and we just had to battle back. We had to go back and get it. I was able to work the top line there a little bit to get the momentum. It looked like our car was just a little bit better at moving around to different lines.”
Truex led 88 laps and came up short but broke a streak of five consecutive third-place finishes. He was frustrated in the closing laps by the slower car of Aric Almirola.
“I think if the 10 car just wasn’t pinning it on the bottom in front of me, I’d have been fine,” said Truex. “Every time I tried to move up and get some air on my car, he’d just slide up in front of me like an idiot. He’s the reason we lost the lead, but in the end, we weren’t good enough.
“I thought the 11 (Hamlin) was better than us all day long. We got the lead there in the pits and were able to use clean air to our advantage. I was never happy with the car all day long. The balance was all over the place. It was firing off tight and getting really loose on long runs. At the end, there was nothing I could do. I was just out of control sideways.”
Clint Bowyer was sixth Jimmie Johnson seventh, with Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. rounding out the top 10.
It was Hamlin’s first win since Kansas last month and puts him ahead in the playoff point lead 37-35 over Harvick with now two races left in the regular season. The win also puts him back into a tie for the most season wins with Harvick.
With his seventh-place finish Johnson moves back into the final playoff spot over Byron who finished 28th.
As the series tries to make up races after postponements due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Saturday’s race was the first of a doubleheader, the series will race again at Dover in 24 hours. The top 20 starters will be inverted Sunday giving the pole to Matt DiBenedetto with Ryan Newman joining him on the front row.
Like much of the field, Hamlin will race the same car he won with Saturday on Sunday.
“We have to take care of it for sure,” Hamlin said. “He (Chris Gabehart, crew chief) told me I have to take care of it so we can win tomorrow. We’ll see, we’ll make some adjustments and there’s no doubt this car will be better tomorrow than it was today.”
1. (2) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 311.
2. (3) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 311.
3. (22) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 311.
4. (10) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 311.
5. (1) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 311.
6. (4) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 311.
7. (6) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 311.
8. (5) Joey Logano, Ford, 311.
9. (7) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 311.
10. (19) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 311.
11. (21) Cole Custer #, Ford, 311.
12. (13) Erik Jones, Toyota, 311.
13. (16) Tyler Reddick #, Chevrolet, 310.
14. (20) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 310.
15. (32) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 310.
16. (12) Chris Buescher, Ford, 310.
17. (17) Aric Almirola, Ford, 309.
18. (25) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 309.
19. (23) Ryan Newman, Ford, 309.
20. (14) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 309.
21. (11) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 309.
22. (18) Christopher Bell #, Toyota, 309.
23. (26) Matt Kenseth, Chevrolet, 309.
24. (31) John Hunter Nemechek #, Ford, 309.
25. (27) Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, 309.
26. (15) Michael McDowell, Ford, 308.
27. (24) Bubba Wallace, Chevrolet, 308.
28. (8) William Byron, Chevrolet, 308.
29. (29) Corey LaJoie, Ford, 308.
30. (28) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 306.
31. (34) JJ Yeley(i), Ford, 302.
32. (37) Josh Bilicki(i), Chevrolet, 299.
33. (35) Quin Houff #, Chevrolet, 298.
34. (33) Timmy Hill(i), Toyota, 298.
35. (38) Joey Gase(i), Ford, 293.
36. (30) Brennan Poole #, Chevrolet, Rear End, 286.
37. (39) Garrett Smithley(i), Chevrolet, Battery, 241.
38. (40) BJ McLeod(i), Chevrolet, Handling, 166.
39. (36) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, Handling, 83.
40. (9) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, Accident, 6.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 124.359 mph.
Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 30 Mins, 3 Secs. Margin of Victory: 1.179 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 4 for 21 laps.
Lead Changes: 15 among 10 drivers.
Lap Leaders: C. Elliott 1-27;A. Dillon 28-30;M. Kenseth 31;A. Dillon 32-58;D. Hamlin 59-136;B. Keselowski 137-138;K. Busch 139-141;R. Stenhouse Jr. 142;M. DiBenedetto 143-159;W. Byron 160;D. Hamlin 161-188;M. Truex Jr. 189-253;B. Keselowski 254-260;A. Dillon 261-279;M. Truex Jr. 280-302;D. Hamlin 303-311.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Denny Hamlin 3 times for 115 laps; Martin Truex Jr. 2 times for 88 laps; Austin Dillon 3 times for 49 laps; Chase Elliott 1 time for 27 laps; Matt DiBenedetto 1 time for 17 laps; Brad Keselowski 2 times for 9 laps; Kyle Busch 1 time for 3 laps; William Byron 1 time for 1 lap; Matt Kenseth 1 time for 1 lap; Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 1 time for 1 lap.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 11,3,2,14,19,22,4,48,17,10
Stage #2 Top Ten: 11,19,14,18,2,4,48,22,47,9
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