Denny Hamlin’s return to Victory Lane ends drought for JGR
By Rick Minter
A season-long losing streak for Joe Gibbs Racing finally came to an end on Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway as Denny Hamlin took the lead from teammate Matt Kenseth with 34 laps remaining and sped away from Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. to win the Overton’s 301.
It was Hamlin’s first win in NASCAR’s elite Monster Energy Cup Series since last September at Richmond and JGR’s first since Carl Edwards won at Texas last November.
Hamlin said Sunday’s win came on a day in which his No. 11 Toyota wasn’t as fast as the No. 78 Toyota of Truex or the No. 42 Chevrolet driven by Larson. Hamlin was in a backup car Sunday after crashing his primary in practice on Friday, but there were no such errors on Sunday.
“We executed nicely, made no mistakes and capitalized when other guys faltered a little bit, and just [did] everything right to win the race,” Hamlin said in his winner’s interview.
Hamlin now has 30 career Cup wins, three of them at New Hampshire. He said his latest win came after a surge in performance in recent weeks. He finished fourth in three of the four races leading into New Hampshire.
“We’ve been treating every week as if it’s a playoff race and giving it all we’ve got,” he said. “We’ve been steadily getting better as the summer has gone on, and we need to continue to stay on that trend of getting better.”
Hamlin said the victory is a big relief because it all but assures him of one of the 16 playoff berths. But there’s also more speed to be found before the final 10 races that will decide the championship.
“I’m not going to think that [Sunday’s win] fixed everything,” he said. “I still think that we have some work to do to be guys that contend for a win every single week.
“We’re getting there. We really, really are getting there. But we still have some work to do.
“Today was just a bonus. We got some bonus points. It was a good points day overall, and we got another victory. All good things, but really when it comes to Monday, we’ll go to work on our next race track.”
Overall, it was a good day for the Gibbs team. Matt Kenseth, who is leaving the team’s No. 20 at season’s end, finished fourth, despite getting just two fresh tires on his final pit stop while most of his challengers got four.
Rookie Daniel Suarez finished sixth, and Kyle Busch appeared to have a car capable of winning, but after leading 95 laps he was nabbed twice for speeding on pit road and finished 12th.
Team owner Joe Gibbs said he was proud of his entire organization for turning its fortunes around.
“We got off to a slow start this year, and I think the thing I’d like to say most about our entire group there, nobody ever would point fingers or anything,” he said. “Everybody would just say: ‘We’ve got to go to work.’
“I think our guys back home working on the cars took it the same way, and I think everybody has been working extremely hard, and I’m hoping what’s happening now is we’re starting to hit our stride and get better and better down the stretch.
“That would be a big deal for us.”
Larson, the runner-up, had a strong performance after having to start the race from the rear of the pack. He was the fastest qualifier on Friday, but his time was disallowed for an unapproved modification to the rear spoiler on his car.
It was his seventh second-place finish of the season and the second time in a row that he finished second after starting in the rear.
Larson said the intense focus on his car by series officials is a sign that his car is a fast one.
“It means everybody is paying attention to us,” he said. “This is my fourth year, and I’ve never been in the position to where NASCAR and other teams are paying so much attention to our race car.
“That’s a compliment to everybody at our race shop.”