Sunday, July 1, 2012

Gibbs Garage: Hamlin scores top-five finish at Kentucky, announces contract extension with JGR

Denny Hamlin leads at Kentucky
Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images
Between visiting an Alaskan FedEx hub, racing sled dogs, and signing an extension with Joe Gibbs Racing, Denny Hamlin had an eventful week. Hamlin announced the contract extension on Twitter just before the race.

When asked why he did that, Hamlin said: “Anybody that follows me on Twitter -- I like to give them the information first. A proud moment for us and Joe Gibbs Racing to sign an extension and know where we’re going to be -- what car I’m going to be in -- for the foreseeable future. Proud to be with FedEx and Joe Gibbs Racing and hopefully we’ll win a championship together.” 

Perhaps settling his contract gave him a boost of confidence, because Hamlin ran in the top four for almost the entire Quaker State 400.

After starting third, he bobbled between second and third spots for the first 75 laps, then slipped to fourth. On the second caution, the No. 11 pit crew gained a couple of spots on pit road so Hamlin restarted in second place. A few laps later, Hamlin passed teammate Busch to take the lead again, and hung onto it for another 60 laps. As Hamlin eased up a little to save fuel, Jimmie Johnson got by him briefly, but the No. 11 took the lead once again after green flag pit stops.

When Ryan Newman’s blown engine brought out the fourth caution, Hamlin stayed out, but having enough fuel to make it until the end under green was still a concern. He ran second for the last leg of the race until Kasey Kahne got by him with only three to go. Hamlin led 58 laps and brought the FedEx Toyota home in third place, his eighth top-5 finish of the season.

Hamlin’s post-race thoughts: “Our car was really strong. We got it better as the day went on. I’m proud of this FedEx team. We needed a finish and that was my first priority on that last run. It wasn’t to chase down the 2 (Brad Keselowski) -- although I would have loved to do it. I had to run the pace that I had to run to make it on fuel. It was kind of anti-climactic when it comes to that, but still a great run for us.”

Kyle Busch started on the front row, taking the lead from polesitter Jimmie Johnson and leading 116 of the first 129 laps. The No. 18 M&Ms Toyota sustained a bit of damage after hitting the wall and Busch reported the front end had tightened up and he had lost some speed.

Later on, with about 70 to go, a shock broke and the car became hard to handle, visibly bouncing on the track. Busch joked about the bouncy car over the radio and drove it to pit road for repairs several times. After restarting way back with 50 to go, Busch steadily gained spots to end up with a 10th place finish. He led the most laps with 118.

Busch’s thoughts about driving with a damaged shock: “So, tough night again for these M&M’s guys. We salvaged a heck of a finish for what all we had to go through. Definitely not any fun to drive, but had to do what we could on three pogo sticks.”

Crew chief Dave Rogers said after the race: “I’m really proud of this M&M’s Toyota Camry group. One thing that we said we had to work on this year was overcoming adversity and the last several weeks has given us our fair share of adversity and I think we did a really good job this week of overcoming it, staying focused and getting the best finish possible.”

Mishap on the frontstretch at Kentucky
Credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images
Joey Logano rolled off 18th at Kentucky and ran in the teens for the first leg of the race. During the first caution, his fast pit crew gained him six positions. On an already hot day, Logano suffered an in-car mishap on Lap 20 when the cool air hose came off his helmet, then he accidentally ripped it while trying to reattach it.

The No. 20 Dollar General Toyota was loose for much of the race. An outside-the-car mishap occurred a little past the halfway mark. Ryan Newman ran into the back of Logano on the front straightaway, causing him to smack the right front side of Clint Bowyer’s car. Both Logano and Bowyer kept control and no caution came out, but Logano dropped back and went a lap down.

On the fourth caution, he took the car to pit road where the crew fixed the fender damage from the accident. Logano was able to go back out and gain some track position, getting himself into the Lucky Dog position, but there were no more cautions. He finished 22nd, still a lap down.

Logano’s post-race thoughts on the incident: “Just got hit from behind and knocked in my quarter panel and made me really, really loose for a few laps and never caught a caution like we needed.”

Points standings for the JGR drivers after Kentucky:
Denny Hamlin – 5th (+3)
Kyle Busch – 12th
Joey Logano – 16th (-1)

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


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