Denny Hamlin Overcomes Back Spasms To Win At The Glen, While Keselowski And Truex Jr. Tangle In Final Turnby Hunter Thomas August 7, 2016 0 comments
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – It took Denny Hamlin 22 road course starts in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to finally win, and he did so by leading the final 10 laps in Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International.
Prior to the race weekend, Hamlin’s best finish at The Glen was a second that he captured back in 2007. Sunday’s victory marks his second win of 2016. He kicked off the season by winning the Daytona 500. Earlier this year, Hamlin, the driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota Camry came so close to winning at Sonoma Raceway, the only other road course on the schedule, but he came up short to finish second after Tony Stewart passed him in the final turn.
“It means a lot,” Hamlin said to win at a road course. “I can’t tell you how disappointed I was we didn’t win the first one. I just tried the best I could and overshot the corner (at Sonoma Raceway) 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.”
On Sunday, Hamlin woke up with back spasms, but he was able to fight through the discomfort to run up front for a good portion of the race after starting sixth. Hamlin mentioned that it had been four or five years since he last had any back issues; however, it was just last year when Hamlin had to be sidelined during Bristol Motor Speedway’s April weekend due to neck spasms. Hamlin noted that the pain he felt this weekend while in the car was the worst that he has ever experienced, while in competition.
“It was by far the worst conditions I’ve ever had to drive in, over the knees, anything else,” Hamlin said referring to the back spasms. “This was by far the worst pain‑wise I’ve had to go through.
It didn’t get any better throughout the day. Trust me, I’m sitting there, even though I’m joyed that we’re leading the race, I was thinking under the red flag, Let’s get this over with so I can get out of this car.”
Joey Logano finished second in the Cheez-It 355 but only after the two drivers in front of him had issues in the final turn. As Hamlin entered the last turn of Sunday’s race, it was Martin Truex Jr. right on his back bumper in second. Before the leaders exited the turn, Brad Keselowski, who was running third, got into the back of Truex Jr., spinning him around the corner. Within yards, Truex Jr. went from nearly finishing at least second, to limping across the line in seventh.
Truex Jr. said, “It’s unfortunate, but hard racing at the end, all of us going for a win and all of us locked in the Chase it’s – I guess he (Brad Keselowski) kind of races with that mentality that hey, it doesn’t really matter where we finish or if we finish so just have to be mindful of that when we’re around him for the rest of the time. All in all a good day for us.”
Following the accident, Truex Jr. showed his displeasure by rubbing doors with Keselowski on the cool-down lap. After the race, Keselowski took full responsibility for the accident. He also had to limp across the line, finishing third, just behind Logano, his Team Penske teammate.
“Yeah, it was obviously my fault when you run into the back of somebody,” Keselowski said. “I saw the 11 was blocking low and thought the 78 (Martin Truex Jr.) would get in behind and rub up the 11 and I wanted to be outside to make a cross-over and see if I couldn’t get both. At the last minute he came back up and I was already committed. I didn’t think he would come back up. You make a commitment before you know what is going to happen and I made a commitment and it didn’t work out. He got the bad end of it. I hit him from behind and that is my fault. Luckily with the way this Chase is, he probably won’t want to hear it, but it doesn’t hurt him too bad.”
AJ Allmendinger finished fourth, but he was also involved in an accident coming through the final turn. When Truex Jr. spun, Kyle Larson and AJ Allmendinger both reacted to avoid the spinning No. 78 Furniture Row Toyota Camry, and when they did, Allmendinger got into the back of Kyle Larson. The No. 42 Target Chevrolet SS of Larson took a sharp right and made extremely heavy contact with the guardrail at the entrance of pit road. While Allmendinger captured a solid top-five finish, Larson was scored 29th.
“I turned him,” Allmendinger said. “Not on purpose. The No. 78 started to spin and Kyle and I were racing for fifth there. He defended on the inside, which he should have. And I tried to cut under him off of the last corner and the No. 78 was coming back across the race track. I was under him. He turned. And I just clipped him. I’m just not very happy with myself on that. I don’t want to do that, especially for fourth place. And he did a great job. It’s on me. I never meant to do it. It’s not going to help the case. I know he’s going to be pissed off and he should be pissed off. I’d be.”
The accident was an incredibly huge hit for Larson in the championship battle. With Tony Stewart and Chris Buescher, both having wins, the cutoff to the Chase is potentially 14th, rather than 16th; however, Stewart and Buescher must be inside the top-30 in the championship standings at the end of the regular season to make the Chase. As of right now, Stewart sits 26th, well inside, but Buescher is 31st, three points out of 30th. That being said, Larson is now 15th, only eight points ahead of Trevor Bayne in 16th. Right now, because Buescher is outside of the top-30, Larson would still make the Chase, but the pressure is certainly on as he’s 30 points away from his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, Jamie McMurray, who’s 14th in the standings.
“We were running sixth coming to (Turn) 7; the No. 47 was behind me,” Larson said. “He is always aggressive. I figured he would be smart. Obviously, the No. 78 was spinning in front of us. That is a free spot for both of us and just dumped me. He had already ran me down to the front stretch wall once with about 15 to go or so. Pretty dumb move right there too, but I was the smarter one racing for points, lifted, could have wrecked him, but didn’t. I don’t know. I don’t know. He wrecked me earlier in the year at Vegas. He has ran me hard, but we always race pretty well, but today was flat out stupid. I love his crew chief (Randall Burnett) to death; he was our engineer last year. It just sucks they are going to have to start building some more race cars because he has got a few coming.”
Rounding out the top-five on Sunday was Tony Stewart. Kyle Busch finished sixth, followed by Truex Jr., McMurray, Trevor Bayne and Matt Kenseth.
There were eight cautions throughout the afternoon. Two of the cautions brought out the red flag. The first red flag flew on lap 54, following a huge wreck involving Austin Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Jimmie Johnson in Turn 5. The crash started, when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. lost control out of Turn 5 and bounced off the guardrail. With nowhere to go, everyone else just piled in. The red flag was displayed for 13 minutes and 19 seconds.
“The cars started checking up in front of me and they all moved out of the way and the No. 17 (Ricky Stenhouse) was sitting there, stopped,” Johnson said. “I remember seeing a door number and I was so thankful it was the passenger-side door and not the driver-side door because I plowed him. I really hit the car hard. I was afraid that I might have injured him. But, thankfully he’s okay and everybody is all right.”
The second red flag came out on lap 85 during the eighth and final caution. After missing the inner loop, Paul Menard threw dirt and sand onto the track. With a thick cloud of dust in the air, it was difficult for the drivers to see, and there was a huge chain reaction involving Kevin Harvick, Danica Patrick, David Ragan, Chris Buescher, Matt DiBenedetto and Michael McDowell.
“Yeah, I started getting checked-up and I think the No. 23 (David Ragan) hit me from behind and we all just kind of piled in there,” Harvick said. “Everybody on our Busch team did a great job today.”
With the third place finish, Brad Keselowski now leads the championship standings by nine points over Kevin Harvick, who finished a disappointing 32nd. Kurt Busch holds steady in third, 38 points back.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has this upcoming weekend off, but the series will be back in action on Saturday, August 20 for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Coverage for the race will broadcast live on the NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) and the Performance Racing Network (PRN) at 8 p.m. ET.
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