Sunday, July 15, 2012

Gibbs Garage: Despite snafu in tire tactics, Hamlin rockets to runner-up finish at New Hampshire

Denny Hamlin leads at New Hampshire
Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
In a pre-race interview for the Lenox Industrial Tools 301, Denny Hamlin said his car would be in contention for most of the day. He was spot on. Denny Hamlin had the car to beat at New Hampshire, until a miscommunication about tires late in the race set him back twelve spots.

Hamlin started the race third, with more than one person dubbing his car a “rocket.” Running second to Kyle Busch early on, Hamlin spent the majority of the race in the top three, leading the most laps with 150 total. During the third caution, for fluid leaking from David Reutimann’s car, crew chief Darian Grubb called for four tires, thinking that was what his driver wanted. Most teams made two-tire stops, so Hamlin ended up 13th on the restart with about 60 to go. What followed was an amazing display of determination and raw talent, as he wheeled the FedEx Toyota through the field to a second place finish behind winner Kasey Kahne.

No. 18 crew chief Darian Grubb
Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images
“I was on the edge of every corner entry the last 20 laps probably,” Hamlin said in a post-race interview. “I was doing everything I could. He (Kahne) just stretched out so far that we ran out of time.”

Hamlin said the miscommunication about tires had nothing to do with Grubb being gone for a few days, when he went home for the birth of his daughter. He said it was just an issue of time and a misunderstanding.

“When the caution flies, when pit road opens, that time is so small, your time to communicate, figure out what you're going to do, you really have about 45 seconds to get it,” Hamlin said. “We just didn't have enough time to be 100% clear with each other on where we were headed. We just had a slight miscommunication, that one little mistake will magnify and take a win away from you. Proud of our team. We had an amazing racecar.”

Polesitter Kyle Busch started out strong, but was foiled by a pair of pit road blunders. Busch led the first 66 laps, then had both a speeding penalty and a problem with the right rear tire during his first green flag pit stop. After returning to pit road to fix the tire, he was stuck in 17th.

Kyle and Samantha Busch chat before the race.
Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images
Busch battled his way back up to the top ten, and led a few more laps. But after overshooting his pit box on another green flag stop, he lost spots and ended up lapped. After taking the wavearound, Busch got back on the lead lap, but struggled with a “wreckin’ loose” racecar and was never able to recover track position. Despite leading an impressive 72 laps, the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota finished 16th.

Joey Logano probably had more fun Sunday morning before the race than during it. In addition to a sponsor event for Toyota, he visited with several players from the New England Patriots.

Logano started the race in 16th spot and ran most of the event in the teens. He was never totally happy with his car, which was “loose in, tight center and loose off” - all day. Even after numerous adjustments by the No. 20 crew on pit stops, the car didn’t improve. After pitting under the third caution, Logano came out in tenth position, but the poor handling continued, resulting in a 14th place finish.

After the race, a visibly disappointed Logano said the car “went to crap” after getting the last set of tires.

Joey Logano hangs out with New England Patriots players
Credit: Toyota Racing
“We struggled today with the Home Depot Toyota. Jason and the guys made a lot of changes but we couldn’t really get the car to improve all day long," Logano said. "We made minor gains, but it just never got good enough to race our way into the top 10.”

But Logano was optimistic about the points and upcoming races. “We lost a couple of spots in the Wild Card standings, but the points are still really close. Just a couple of positions on the track can completely change the outlook of things from here on out. There are a couple of good tracks for me coming up in Indy and going back to Pocono.”

Points standings after New Hampshire:
Denny Hamlin – 5th (+2)
Kyle Busch – 13th (-1)
Joey Logano – 16th (-2)
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Beth Bence Reinke writes "Gibbs Garage," Joe Gibbs Racing Sprint Cup team recaps, for the 2012 season. Her Skirts and Scuffs column, “Faith on the Frontstretch,” explores the role of faith in motorsports. Beth is the author of Race Fans’ Devotions to Go, a devotional book geared toward female NASCAR fans. Follow Beth on Twitter at @bbreinke or reach her at bbreinke@skirtsandScuffs.com

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