Denny Hamlin overcomes early struggles to deliver a Texas victory
By Rick Minter / Andrews McMeel Syndication
Denny Hamlin overcame two pit-road penalties — and another costly mistake of missing pit road entirely on one of his planned stops — to win Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
It was Hamlin’s second win of the season, the first coming in the season-opening Daytona 500, and the fourth for his Joe Gibbs Racing team. After seven races, only Gibbs and Team Penske, which has two victories with Brad Keselowski and a third with Joey Logano, have visited Victory Lane. Kyle Busch scored the other two Cup wins for Gibbs.
Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota was strong in the early going of Sunday’s race, but he was nabbed for speeding on pit road on Lap 64 and had to go to the rear. He won the second 85-lap stage but had to restart at the rear of the pack due to his crew letting a tire go uncontrolled. Then he missed pit road in the final stage, which cost him both time and position.
But thanks to a fast car — and a durable tire compound that allowed him to make several timesaving, fuel-only pit stops — all that didn’t matter much in the end.
“Really all that cost us today was we lost out on stage points in the first stage, and I probably cost us a lot of laps led, more than likely,” Hamlin said in the winner’s interview. “Certainly things fell favorable for us with the cautions that did come. We were able to have some really good restarts. That was key for us, as well. The final two restarts, we were really able to gain positions.”
He said the main factor in his comeback was having a car that would move through traffic in a hurry — something his competitors struggled with.
“It seemed like our car could move around as good as anyone,” he said. “That’s what allowed me to be aggressive, allowed me to come through the pack multiple times.”
Hamlin’s teammates also had fast cars, as Kyle Busch led a race-high 66 laps before hitting the wall and fading to 10th. Erik Jones came back from an early spin to lead 30 laps and finished fourth, while Martin Truex Jr. led 10 laps and finished 12th.
Team Penske, which has been door-to-door with Gibbs all season, had mechanical problems with its three entries. Brad Keselowski broke a rear gear. Joey Logano fell behind when his hood support collapsed, and Ryan Blaney’s car lost its water after he led 45 laps.
“A part broke off and leaked all the water out, so that’s the way it goes,” Blaney said. “It just seems that’s the way this season is going. We’ve had a shot to win pretty much every race and something happens. That’s getting old, but the car is fast.
“That’s the bright side, but I’m kind of tired of looking at the bright side. I want to actually start finishing where we should.”
Blaney has led 195 laps this season, more than any driver who has yet to win this year.
PHOTO CAPTION: Denny Hamlin, right, and team owner Joe Gibbs celebrate and share the good news with loved ones via a phone call from Victory Lane.|Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR