Denny Hamlin knew he was going to win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but then he changed his mind.
Following last Sunday’s race at Chicagoland Speedway, Hamlin guaranteed a victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway the following week. Friday, Hamlin retracted those comments despite being the fastest car in both practice sessions that day.
Maybe Hamlin should have stuck to his guns.
Starting the race in 32nd following a poor qualifying effort, Hamlin made his way inside the top-15 before the competition caution flew on lap 40.
From there, it only took him 53 laps to make his way up into the lead, passing teammate Kyle Busch to take the top spot on lap 93.
With cautions being a rarity on Sunday, each time one flew seemingly doubled the effect of a smart call on pit road and vice versa.
After electing not to pit after the lap 130 caution, Hamlin was close to having to make a pit stop when the caution flew on lap 179, allowing Hamlin to pit with the rest of the cars on the lead lap and—more importantly—maintain the crucial track position.
Through another set of green flag stops, Hamlin’s lead over then second place car, Clint Bowyer, was over four-seconds and growing as the race had under 40 laps to go.
Driving away from the field, Hamlin looked to be well on his way to an easy victory. That was until the final caution of the race came out with 26 laps to go.
With the top-seven cars opting not to pit under the final caution, Hamlin remained on the front row for the final restart.
Getting the jump on the restart, Hamlin rocketed out to over a two-second lead over second place, Jimmie Johnson, as the race hit 10 laps to go.
Never looking back, and with no one making a serious charge at him, Hamlin was able to crusie to victory in Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
“Our car was just extremely strong all weekend long,” said Hamlin in victory lane after the race. “Obviously we would have swept the weekend as far as number-one’s (practice, qualifying and race) if we didn’t have that blunder in qualifying.”
By leading 193 of the 300 laps after starting 32nd, Hamlin picked up his fifth of the 2012 season and his third in the past five races.
“For me, it actually made it more exciting. You never want to plan something like that, but it’s way more exciting for me than going out here and got the pole and just lead every lap.
“It was exciting for me, but a statement race for our team.”
While Hamlin’s victory Sunday at New Hampshire was the 22nd career victory, it was also the 100th victory for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Sprint Cup Series since their inception in 1992.
“It was a huge day for us,” said team owner Joe Gibbs. “Bobby Labonte (former JGR driver) came in victory circle and congratulated us, I appreciated Bobby. Dale Jarrett, Jimmy Makar, everybody when we first started..Tony (Stewart). It took a lot of people down the road.
“I think back on it, 21-years doesn’t seem like it was that long ago. But to realize we got 100 wins is a huge deal for us.”
After picking up JGR’s 100th win, Hamlin now sits third in the standings, seven points back of new leader Jimmie Johnson heading into next weekend’s race at Dover International Speedway, a track that Hamlin has struggled at in the past.
“I’m going to be optimistic when I go there,” said Hamlin. “Darian (Grubb, crew chief) and my team have been working really hard on that race track for quite a long time—last few weeks at least—on working on a setup that would make me comfortable around that race track.
“We’re going to take our Richmond car there. The car’s going to be good, so I have to keep an open mind and get out there for the first green flag run and have faith that I can do it.
“I’ll be leaning on my teammates (Busch and Joey Logano) quite a bit next week obviously.”
Sylvania 300 Unofficial Results
1: Denny Hamlin
2: Jimmie Johnson
3: Jeff Gordon
4: Clint Bowyer
5: Kasey Kahne
6: Brad Keselowski
7: Tony Stewart
8: Joey Logano
9: Brian Vickers
10: Ryan Newman
11: Kevin Harvick
12: Paul Menard
13: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
14: Matt Kenseth
15: Jeff Burton
16: Regan Smith
17: Martin Truex Jr.
18: Greg Biffle
19: Carl Edwards
20: Bobby Labonte
21: Sam Hornish Jr.
22: Juan Pablo Montoya
23: Aric Almirola
24: Marcos Ambrose
25: Kurt Busch
26: Jamie McMurray
27: Landon Cassill
28: Kyle Busch
29: David Ragan
30: David Reutimann
31: Travis Kvapil
32: David Gilliland
33: Mike Olsen
34: Stephen Leicht
35: David Stremme
36: Casey Mears
37: Michael McDowell
38: Scott Speed
39: Joe Nemechek
40: Tony Raines
41: JJ Yeley
42: Reed Sorenson
43: Kelly Bires