Hamlin survives carnage to win at Watkins Glen

Denny Hamlin was the top road warrior in the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen on Sunday.

Hamlin survives carnage to win at Watkins Glen
Race winner Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Race winner Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Race winner Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, pit action
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Roush Fenway Racing Ford, crashed car
Joey Logano, Team Penske Ford

Hamlin, who battled back spasms throughout the race, took the lead with 10 laps to go. For Hamlin, it was the first time he ever led a lap on the 2.45-mile track. Following the eighth caution, Hamlin got a great jump on Joey Logano and held off the field to the finish for his first road course victory and his 28th career win overall.  

“That’s the best burnout of the year,” the No. 11 crew told Hamlin after he celebrating down the front stretch.

“It smells so good to me,” Hamlin replied. Hamlin, who the Daytona 500, became the second consecutive driver to win both the 500 and Watkins Glen

Hamlin’s advantage at the line was 2.065-seconds over Logano. Brad Keselowski, AJ Allmendinger and Tony Stewart rounded out the top-five finishers. 

“It means a lot, I can’t tell you how disappointed we are that we didn’t win the first one,” Hamlin said of Sonoma in June when he finished second to Stewart. “I just drove the best I could. I overshot the corner — but I didn’t do it this time. So I probably overdrove it and let those guys move a little closer than I should of. I hate to see the 78 (Truex) turned around there. They’ve been great teammates of ours.

“Thanks to all the teammates that tested here — and obviously gave us a great baseline and a fast car.”

Cautions breed cautions

The race was slowed by eight cautions, the first two for debris on Lap 14 and Lap 49. NASCAR was forced to red-flag (13:19) the race after Ricky Stenhouse Jr. lost control of his car in Turn 5 on Lap 53. Stenhouse spun, came back across the track and collected Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle and Austin Dillon. Both Stenhouse and Johnson were unable to continue.

“We were just hustling hard on that restart and got loose over the curb and just kind of spun,” Stenhouse said. “From that point we were just along for the ride. It looked like everybody scattered and it was probably pretty hard to see. We got hit pretty hard. 

The guys had a fast car. We had some issues yesterday in qualifying that put us toward the back and we were fighting all day to get back up there. We had done that at one point then messed up in the pits and got blocked in. We were trying to get that position back and made a lot of passes that first lap. We were hustling the car and just got loose.” 

For Johnson, who finished 40th, it was his worst finish of the season and fourth DNF of the year. 

“The cars started checking up in front of me and they all moved out of the way and the No. 17 (Stenhouse) was sitting there, stopped,” Johnson said. “I remember seeing a door number and I was so thankful it was the passenger-side door and not the driver-side door because I plowed him. I really hit the car hard. I was afraid that I might have injured him. 

“But, thankfully he’s okay and everybody is all right. It’s unfortunate for this Jimmie Johnson Foundation car and a big thank you once again, to Lowe’s for letting us run that paint scheme on the car. I guess we got them some on-camera exposure today, but not the kind we wanted.”

The race barely got back up to speed when David Ragan triggered the next wreck in Turn 5 on Lap 57. Carl Edwards, who led the first 25 laps of the race, received damage as did Clint Bowyer and Alex Kennedy. 

Caution 5 was called for debris in the inner loop on Lap 65, after Landon Cassill sprayed kitty litter on the track. After two quick restart,  Alex Kennedy blew up on Lap 76 to ignite the seventh yellow flag.

The race was red-flagged again with six laps remaining after David Ragan and Kevin Harvick wrecked coming out of the bus stop to bring out the eight caution on Lap 83. Last week’s winner Chris Buescher, Danica Patrick, Aric Almirola, Matt DiBenedetto and Michael McDowell also were collected in the melee. 

“I started getting checked-up and I think the No. 23 (Ragan) hit me from behind and we all just kind of piled in there,” said Harvick, who finished  32nd. “Everybody on our Busch team did a great job today. I was battling some brake issues and just trying to maintain the brakes, but they got me great track position and up in the front. And then, coming to the yellow that one time, I got into the Speedy Dry and the front tire locked-up and we had to pit. But, we had it where we needed to be. We just got back there and we got tore up.”

Buescher was seen and released from the infield care center while the No. 34 team repaired the car. He returned to the track and finished 30th. He remains three points outside of the top 30.

“These CSX guys, they worked really hard to get this fixed quickly and got back on track and took the green flag with everybody else there. I am proud of them for that," said the Pocono winner.

Final restart and hectic run to the checkered flag

Hamlin described the closing laps as hectic. “Really, I didn’t anything special,” Hamlin said. “The front two cars — the 2 and the 18 overshot the (final) corner on the one restart to give us an opportunity. It was just about hitting my marks and not giving those guys a chance — like I gave Tony a chance at Sonoma. Really proud of this effort, this is a great sign of things to come. I feel like we’ll have a good run in the Chase."

He held the lead when the race restarted with four laps remaining. When the race restarted, Logano went wide and Truex passed him for second. With two laps remaining, Keselowski passed Logano for third with Larson rounding out the top-five. 

Hamlin maintained the lead coming to the white flag with Truex and Keslowski in tow. The driver of the No. 11 held off the charge and raced to the checkers as Keselowski made contact with Truex in Turn 7. Allmendinger, who was charging at the finish, spun Larson coming to the line. 

Kyle Busch, Jamie McMurray, Truex, Trevor Bayne and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top 10. 

Harvick had a 22-point lead over Keselowski entering the event. After Keselowski’s podium finish, he gained a nine-point advantage over the No. 4 Chevy. 

There were nine lead changes among eight drivers. Kurt Busch, who finished 11th, continued his streak of 22 races finishing on the lead lap. 

CLICK HERE for complete race results

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