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Overton’s 301

Denny Hamlin wins New Hampshire NASCAR race in backup car

LOUDON, NH - JULY 16: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Office Toyota, poses with a lobster in Victory Lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Overton's 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 16, 2017 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
Denny Hamlin celebrates victory with his spoils at New Hampshire Motor Speedway: the Overton’s 301 trophy and one big lobster.

LOUDON, N.H. — Denny Hamlin turned the winning car at New Hampshire Motor Speedway into a piece of junk. 

By the end of the Overton’s 301, Hamlin had sizzled the rear tires completely off the No. 11 Toyota. Steam billowed from under the hood with the force of Old Faithful. It was no surprise that Hamlin was barely able to drive the No. 11 to Victory Lane.  

The celebratory burnout on the front straightaway, however, was worth the damage Hamlin inflicted on his machine. 

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It had been a long weekend for Hamlin. On Friday, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver put his team in a bind. During the first practice, as he peeled off Turn 4, Hamlin sent his Camry into a spin. As hard as he jerked his wheel to correct his goof, Hamlin could not keep the nose of his car from tagging the inside wall in front of pit road. His best car was no longer drivable. 

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Seemingly seconds after Hamlin pulled himself out of his crumpled Camry, the No. 11 team dashed to its hauler to lower the backup car from its upper deck. They got to work preparing what they thought would be a dormant machine for race duty. 

When it counted on Sunday, the backup did not race like one. 

“This weekend was another one of those testaments where we wrecked primary car on Friday and we had to double down and get to work,” said crew chief Michael Wheeler. “Guys on the team, guys in the shop worked their butts off to get here. We weren’t the fastest car all race long. We had a top-five car. Probably one or two guys a little bit faster. But we were in contention all day and made it happen.” 

On the final restart, Hamlin was in fourth position behind Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, and Martin Truex Jr. The No. 11 restarted on the top groove. Hamlin made it work.  

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Hamlin promptly cleared Truex and set his sights on the No. 88 and No. 20. Kenseth and Hamlin did not have any trouble peeling past Earnhardt. Hamlin then went to work on Kenseth, who had opted for a two-tire change during the previous caution. With four fresh Goodyears on his rims, Hamlin was poised to get around Kenseth. It was just a matter of time. 

On Lap 267, Hamlin got around his JGR teammate, sucked in clean air, and mashed the gas in search of the checkered flag. The No. 11 was so good in front that it soon made the No. 20 a speck in the rearview mirror. 

That was not the car that worried Hamlin. 

Kyle Larson was coming. The No. 42 started the day at the end of the line, courtesy of a post-qualifying inspection failure on Friday. But Larson had no issues clearing his competitors once the green flag dropped. It got to the point where Larson got around Kenseth and had a good look at Hamlin’s rear bumper. 

Larson simply couldn’t reach it. The No. 42 closed to within half a second on the final lap. But Hamlin had enough horsepower to keep his chaser from closing. 

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Such reserves have not always been there for the team to tap. Last year, JGR was the class of the garage. Between Hamlin, Kenseth, Kyle Busch, and Carl Edwards, the organization won 12 of 36 races. This year, none of the four cars, with Daniel Suarez replacing Edwards, had banked a win. 

“The thing you learn is that it’s so hard,” said owner Joe Gibbs. “It doesn’t matter what you did one year. Last year was a great year. This year, we’ve been off some. I do feel like in the last five, six weeks, we’ve worked our way back toward having good speed, but we haven’t been able to make it happen for us at the end of races. I think it says you’ve got to have a lot of respect for our sport.” 

Hamlin is now in fifth place in the standings. The win gains him entry to the playoffs. Now he can push for playoff points via stage wins and race results. 

“We’ve been positioning ourselves pretty good in the regular season with points to try and get in the playoffs,” Hamlin said. “This is a bonus to lock ourselves in. It gives you a sense of security if you do have a bad day or two between now and the playoffs. You’re trying to work your way up high in the regular-season standings. You get bonus points the higher you are. That’s the whole point of this stage format. It creates no off weekends. We’ve been treating every week like a playoff race and giving it all we’ve got. We’ve been steadily getting better as the summer’s went on. We need to continue to stay on that trend of getting better.”

Full results

1. (8) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 301 laps, 0 rating, 51 points.

2. (39) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 301, 0, 45.

3. (1) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 301, 0, 49.

4. (3) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 301, 0, 46.

5. (12) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 301, 0, 40.

6. (14) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 301, 0, 31.

7. (19) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 301, 0, 31.

8. (9) Kurt Busch, Ford, 301, 0, 36.

9. (10) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 301, 0, 28.

10. (2) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 301, 0, 33.

11. (11) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 301, 0, 27.

12. (7) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 301, 0, 41.

13. (30) Danica Patrick, Ford, 301, 0, 24.

14. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, 301, 0, 23.

15. (26) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 301, 0, 22.

16. (25) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 301, 0, 21.

17. (4) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 301, 0, 27.

18. (18) Dale Earnhardt Jr, Chevrolet, 301, 0, 19.

19. (15) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 301, 0, 24.

20. (27) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 301, 0, 17.

21. (23) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 301, 0, 16.

22. (29) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 301, 0, 15.

23. (28) Landon Cassill, Ford, 301, 0, 14.

24. (21) Aric Almirola, Ford, 301, 0, 13.

25. (22) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 300, 0, 12.

26. (20) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 300, 0, 11.

27. (24) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 300, 0, 14.

28. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 300, 0, 14.

29. (32) David Ragan, Ford, 300, 0, 8.

30. (16) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 299, 0, 7.

31. (31) Corey Lajoie, Toyota, 298, 0, 6.

32. (36) Ryan Sieg, Toyota, 298, 0, 0.

33. (37) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 297, 0, 4.

34. (35) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 296, 0, 3.

35. (34) Gray Gaulding, Chevrolet, 295, 0, 2.

36. (38) Josh Bilicki, Chevrolet, 290, 0, 0.

37. (13) Joey Logano, Ford, 269, 0, 1.

38. (33) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, engine, 66, 0, 1.

39. (6) Erik Jones, Toyota, accident, 40, 0, 1.

___

Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 105.802 mph.

Time of Race: 3 hours, 0 minutes, 36 seconds.

Margin of Victory: 0.509 seconds.

Caution Flags: 7 for 34 laps.

Lead Changes: 11 among 6 drivers.

Lap Leaders: M.Truex 1-78; Ky.Busch 79-153; D.Hamlin 154-173; M.Truex 174-217; Ky.Busch 218-237; K.Larson 238; D.Earnhardt 239-245; M.Truex 246-260; M.Kenseth 261-263; D.Earnhardt 264-266; M.Kenseth 267; D.Hamlin 268-301

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Led, Laps Led): M.Truex, 3 times for 134 laps; Ky.Busch, 2 times for 93 laps; D.Hamlin, 2 times for 52 laps; D.Earnhardt, 2 times for 8 laps; M.Kenseth, 2 times for 2 laps; K.Larson, 1 time for 0 laps.

Wins: J.Johnson, 3; M.Truex, 3; B.Keselowski, 2; K.Larson, 2; R.Stenhouse, 2; R.Blaney, 1; Ku.Busch, 1; A.Dillon, 1; D.Hamlin, 1; K.Harvick, 1; J.Logano, 1; R.Newman, 1.

Top 16 in Points: 1. M.Truex, 758; 2. K.Larson, 720; 3. Ky.Busch, 650; 4. K.Harvick, 639; 5. D.Hamlin, 589; 6. C.Elliott, 587; 7. J.McMurray, 572; 8. B.Keselowski, 564; 9. J.Johnson, 552; 10. C.Bowyer, 526; 11. M.Kenseth, 524; 12. R.Blaney, 486; 13. J.Logano, 472; 14. Ku.Busch, 455; 15. R.Stenhouse, 441; 16. R.Newman, 428.

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.