By AMANDA VINCENT
Denny Hamlin came close to claiming his first-career road course win in Junen when he finished second to Tony Stewart at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, giving up the lead on the last lap. That first win finally came, though, on Sunday when Hamlin took the checkered flag in the Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International.
“It means a lot,” Hamlin said of finally getting a road-course win. “I can’t tell you how disappointed I was we didn’t win the first one (road course race at Sonoma Raceway in June). I just tried the best I could and overshot the corner, and I didn’t want to do it this time, and so I probably under-drove and let those guys be a little closer than I should’ve.”
Hamlin had to gingerly walk into victory lane, though, as he battled back spasms.
“I just woke up with back spasms this morning,” Hamlin said. “Just hits me every three or four months or so. I just wake up and can’t move. Really doubted being in the race car today, to be honest with you, but can’t say enough about this whole FedEx Freight Toyota team. It’s just a — should’ve won both road courses, which is something we never would’ve predicted going into the year.”
Team Penske teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski finished second and third. A.J. Allmendinger was fourth, and Stewart rounded out the top-five.
Truex and Keselowski were second and third on the final lap, but contact between the two resulted in a Truex spin, allowing Logano to get by them both to take runner-up honors. Truex wound up seventh at the finish.
“I got right up to the bumper of the 78 (Truex) and couldn’t do anything there, and he made a move to get by the 11 (Hamlin) on the inside and the 11 blocked him,” Keselowski said. “I went high and the 78 went high, and by then, I was already deep in the corner and got into him and turned him. That was really unfortunate and the last thing I wanted to see. This track, here, when you drive into the corner, you commit, and sometimes you don’t know what will happen when you commit. The last thing I wanted to do was turn him.”
Hamlin took the lead when he went from third to first on a restart, getting by Kyle Busch and Keselowski when the race returned to green after a lap 76 caution. Hamlin ran up front the rest of the way, holding the top spot through two additional restarts.
Carl Edwards started on the pole and led the first 25 laps of the race before making his first pit stop under green on lap 26. When Edwards pitted, Logano inherited the lead and looked to be on a strategy of completing the 90-lap race on two pit stops. He made his first stop on lap 34, but that first stop led to a second trip down pit road because of a speeding penalty.
Through varying pit strategies, Danica Patrick, Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch each led laps before Kurt Busch slipped and handed the lead back over to Logano after a lap-48 caution.
Keselowski was among the drivers making final pit stops under yellow on lap 49 and went into fuel-saving mode. The fuel-saving strategy got assists from six additional cautions.
While the yellow flag only waved once in the first half of the 90-lap race, the second half was plagued by seven more cautions, with two of those leading to red flags for track clean-up after multi-car wrecks.
Pole-sitter Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick and the previous weekend’s race winner Chris Buescher were among drivers caught up in second-half incidents.
Buescher, trying to crack the top-30 to make his Pocono Raceway win relevent in terms of getting into the Chase for the Sprint Cup, returned to the track after time in the garage for repairs. In the end, he was credited with a 30th-place finish.
“This is not how we expected that one to go,” Buescher said. “We got down to it at the end and were racing through the bus stop and game out of it, and I am not sure who, but a couple guys went through the dirt and cause a wall that we couldn’t see through. I came through the other side of it and the 4 car (Harvick) was sitting there backwards. I tried to get down to avoid it and hooked the splitter in the mud, tucked it under and got stuck. I was trying to get it where I could drive back around, but I had to get out and go through all that.”
Buescher remained 31st in the standings but cut his deficit over 30th-place driver David Ragan in half, from six points to three. Ragan also was caught up in a wreck, and as a result, finished 33rd.
After staying out to assume the race lead during a lap-53 caution, Keselowski showed the way until Hamlin took over the top spot.
Other drivers finishing in the top-10 included Kyle Busch in sixth, Jamie McMurray in eighth, Trevor Bayne ninth and Matt Kenseth 10th.
Follow Auto Racing Daily on Twitter @AutoRacingDaily or like Auto Racing Daily on Facebook (facebook.com/autorcngdaily). Amanda’s also on Twitter @NASCARexaminer and has a fan/like page on Facebook (Facebook.com/nascarexaminer)