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Pain Nearly Cost Hamlin Shot At Road Redemption

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 8 2016
Denny Hamlin and his team celebrate their victory at Watkins Glen on Sunday. Hamlin experienced the agony of victory in the race. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Andrew Coppley)

Denny Hamlin and his team celebrate their victory at Watkins Glen on Sunday. Hamlin experienced the agony of victory in the race. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Andrew Coppley)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Denny Hamlin’s career-first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series road-course victory Sunday at Watkins Glen International was played-out with a grimace, courtesy of a pain in his back, and perhaps the request for a couple capsules of Motrin.

sprint-logo-08Hamlin, who has a history of back issues, said he woke up Sunday morning knowing he was in “pretty big trouble” with his backside. “You know, slept wrong, something,” Hamlin said. “We worked on it all day to try to make it better. We really didn’t make it much better.”

Relief came in the form of the checkered flag and victory in the 31st annual Cheez-It 355 at The Glen, as Hamlin led the last 10 laps of 90 around WGI’s historic 2.45-mile/11-turn natural terrain layout. Hamlin scored his 28th career Cup victory but first on either Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway or The Glen _ the only two non-oval circuits on the schedule.

Hamlin said he was blindsided by his latest back issue. “It just happens every now and then,” said Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota Camry fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing. “It’s never happened on a race day, for sure. Usually I’m in the car and things get looser as the weekend goes on.

“Really, I haven’t had back problems for four to five years. It’s all subsided pretty well. I’ve got a pretty good routine that I do during the week that helps that. But yeah, no doubt if it was Friday or Saturday, no question I wouldn’t have turned one lap today. It was by far the worst conditions I’ve

Denny Hamlin awoke with severe back pain on Sunday. He went to sleep with his second wins of the season on Sunday night. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

Denny Hamlin awoke with severe back pain on Sunday. He went to sleep with his second wins of the season on Sunday night. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

ever had to drive in, over the knees (operations), anything else. This was by far the worst pain I’ve had to go through.”

Erik Jones, a NASCAR Xfinity Series regular and three-time race-winner this season for JGR, reportedly was prepared to sub for Hamlin if he had decided to opt-out of the cockpit.

Hamlin visibly was in discomfort during the mandatory pre-race driver’s meeting, when he could not sit down. “I sat next to him,” said crew chief Mike Wheeler, whose day began with a text from Hamlin informing him of his discomfort. “You could just tell he was in pain. Nothing you could do today to fix it. But end of the day I know he mans-up when he needs to. I almost want to say if he knew he didn’t have a winning car he might do something different. But I know he definitely gets that attitude going in the car when he has a winning car, can run up-front and tough it out.”

Hamlin outlasted a series of late-race crashes and a final lap charge from Martin Truex Jr. to earn his second trip to a Gatorade Victory Lane this season. The race’s second red flag flew with just seven laps remaining after Kevin Harvick, Chris Buescher, Danica Patrick, Aric Almirola, Matt DiBenedetto and Michael McDowell were involved in a heavy incident in the Bus Stop chicane in the series’ first trip to WGI since a $12-million repaving project was completed in early 2016.

The ensuing final restart saw Truex pass Joey Logano for the runnerup spot and begin to track down the leader. In the final corner, Brad Keselowski made contact with the rear of Truex’s car and sent him spinning into the outside wall. Logano held on for second, followed by Keselowski, A.J. Allmendinger and three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart, who finished his career at Watkins Glen as the all-time wins leader with five.

Sunday’s race produced eight caution periods for 24 laps, two red flags for 30 minutes and entertaining restarts before a sold-out reserved grandstand crowd estimated at just under 100,000. On the heels of a second consecutive sellout, WGI President Michael Printup announced plans for a new viewing deck outside the Esses in 2017.

“What impressed me a lot was that crowd,” said Joe Gibbs, Hamlin’s car-owner. “To have a sellout crowd here is huge for our sport. It’s big for all our sponsors. We had a number of them here with us this weekend. Obviously, this race is a huge race for FedEx. When you got somebody like that that sponsors your car, as we all know in this sport, it’s really a partnership with the sponsors. You can’t race without them. So it’s a big deal for our race team.”

Hamlin finished second to Stewart in the season’s first road-course event at Sonoma on June 26. Stewart, who took the lead there by pitting out of sequence, paced the final 22 laps by holding off Truex and then Hamlin to get his first victory of the season and eighth on a Cup road-course. Hamlin, who led 33 laps at Sonoma, actually passed Stewart’s No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet SS for the lead on the final lap. But Smoke pushed his way into the lead when Hamlin over-cooked the penultimate turn.

“Denny, I felt like Sonoma was a heartbreak there to go to the last corner and lose the race on the road-course,” Gibbs said. “Then to bounce back and come back here and race like he did today, they were big-hitters up-front that were great road racers. For him to come out on top here, I think that says a lot about Denny. I think you have to consider him a threat everywhere we go, but certainly on a road-course now. I think he’s proven that he’s somebody that can contend for a win.”  

Hamlin, who last pitted for fuel on Lap 49, completed the remaining 41 laps without another stop thanks to a series of cautions that began falling on Lap 54 and ended on Lap 86. Hamlin pulled away from Truex, driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Toyota, on the final restart on Lap 87 en route to a victory over Team Penske’s Logano and his No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford by 2.065-seconds. Hamilton punctuated the win via a long, smoky burnout that shredded both rear Goodyear Eagle road-course radials.

“There at the end, we really just executed our restarts. That’s been key,” said Hamlin, who opened the season with a victory in the Daytona 500. “You got to get through the first couple corners on restarts.

“Trust me, I’m sitting there and even though we’re leading the race I was thinking under the red flag, ‘Let’s get this over with so I can get out of this car,’^” Hamlin said. “Honestly, it’s (the win) more validating, because I feel so awful. There were so many corners that I under-drove just because my feel wasn’t as good today in the race car. That’s how we feel the edge is through our backside. When our backside is not healthy, it’s tough. That made it extra special, is that when it was game-time _ when it was go-time _ we got it done.”

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NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race – Cheez-It 355 at The Glen

Watkins Glen International

Watkins Glen, New York

Sunday, August 07, 2016

 

  1. (6) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 90.
  2. (7) Joey Logano, Ford, 90.
  3. (12) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 90.
  4. (9) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 90.
  5. (3) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 90.
  6. (5) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 90.
  7. (14) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 90.
  8. (10) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 90.
  9. (32) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 90.
  10. (4) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 90.
  11. (17) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 90.
  12. (20) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 90.
  13. (16) Chase Elliott #, Chevrolet, 90.
  14. (21) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 90.
  15. (1) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 90.
  16. (8) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 90.
  17. (11) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 90.
  18. (28) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 90.
  19. (19) * Ryan Blaney #, Ford, 90.
  20. (23) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 90.
  21. (31) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 90.
  22. (33) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 90.
  23. (40) Landon Cassill, Ford, 90.
  24. (37) Boris Said, Ford, 90.
  25. (27) Brian Scott #, Ford, 90.
  26. (39) * Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 90.
  27. (34) Aric Almirola, Ford, 90.
  28. (22) * Cole Whitt, Toyota, 90.
  29. (2) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 89.
  30. (25) Chris Buescher #, Ford, 89.
  31. (18) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 89.
  32. (15) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, Accident, 83.
  33. (26) David Ragan, Toyota, Accident, 83.
  34. (35) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, Accident, 83.
  35. (29) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 77.
  36. (36) * Alex Kennedy, Chevrolet, Engine, 76.
  37. (38) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 74.
  38. (30) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, Accident, 52.
  39. (24) Greg Biffle, Ford, Accident, 52.
  40. (13) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, Accident, 52.

 

Average Speed of Race Winner:  89.513 mph.

Time of Race:  2 Hrs, 27 Mins, 48 Secs. Margin of Victory:  2.065 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  8 for 20 laps.

Lead Changes:  9 among 8 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   C. Edwards 1-25; M. Truex Jr. 26; J. Logano 27-33; D. Patrick 34-44; Kyle Busch 45-48; B. Keselowski 49; Kurt Busch 50-52; J. Logano 53; B. Keselowski 54-80; D. Hamlin 81-90.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  B. Keselowski 2 times for 28 laps; C. Edwards 1 time for 25 laps; D. Patrick 1 time for 11 laps; D. Hamlin 1 time for 10 laps; J. Logano 2 times for 8 laps; Kyle Busch 1 time for 4 laps; Kurt Busch 1 time for 3 laps; M. Truex Jr. 1 time for 1 lap.

Top 16 in Points: B. Keselowski – 727; K. Harvick – 718; Kurt Busch – 689; Kyle Busch – 670; C. Edwards – 653; J. Logano – 652; D. Hamlin – 620; M. Truex Jr. – 612; M. Kenseth – 600; J. Johnson – 578; R. Newman – 562; C. Elliott # – 561; A. Dillon – 559; J. Mcmurray – 550; K. Larson – 520; T. Bayne – 512.

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 8 2016
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