Gibbs Garage: Denny Hamlin grabs lead after late-race pit stop, credits crew with win

Denny Hamlin in Victory Lane at AMS
Photo: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs  
In a stunning example of unwavering teamwork, Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 team pulled off their second Sprint Cup victory in two weeks. This marks the fourth win for Hamlin this season, the most for any Cup driver in 2012. He led a race-high 105 laps and clinched his spot in the Chase.

Hamlin rolled off the grid in seventh in the Sports Clips Toyota, moved up to third by Lap 16 and ran in the top three for the rest of the event. In the early part of the race, he followed behind leader Kyle Busch, and passed him for the lead on Lap 92.

Hamlin and Gordon battle in last laps of Advocare 500.
Photo: Charlote Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
With 100 laps to go, Hamlin was not happy about having to make up “half the track” when he pitted five laps after leader Harvick, but he made up the ground in no time. He ran second to Harvick for a long stretch, then was able to beat the No. 29 off pit road during the third caution. With 44 to go, Hamlin lost the lead to Martin Truex Jr. Jeff Gordon also passed him,
dropping Hamlin to third as he tried to save fuel.

Hamlin was still running third when Jamie McMurray hit the wall in the final laps, bringing out a caution. The lightning-fast No. 11 pit crew gained their driver two critical spots, giving him the lead on the final restart, which was a G-W-C. Hamlin got a good run, with Jeff Gordon’s nose on his bumper, then pulled ahead and sailed across the start-finish line.

“...I feel like we had the best car. But circumstances just fell our way at the end, and when you start to falter and you start to fade, you've got to have another aspect of the team that picks you up, and today it was the pit crew that won us this race today. We're very blessed for that.”

Hamlin's burnout at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Photo: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
For Hamlin’s post-race quote from the AMS Media Center about his end-of-race battle with Jeff Gordon, click here.

In the post-race presser, Hamlin was asked about his experience two years ago when he went into the final race of the Chase with the points lead. “All I can hope is that I get that opportunity again, and if I do, I'm going to live in the moment, and I'm going to focus everything I can do to win that race instead of worrying about the outcome. I'm going to have a lot more fun and enjoy it.”

“This year the race at Homestead is on my birthday, so I can’t think of a better present.”

The Doublemint car heads down pit road at Atlanta
Photo: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
Kyle Busch started third and took the lead by Lap 16 in the AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. During the first caution, a quick pit stop kept him in first off pit road. Busch led two-thirds of the first 90 laps, trading the lead a few times with Kevin Harvick and teammate Denny Hamlin, until losing it for good on Lap 90. Busch fought handling on the No. 18 Doublemint Toyota and lost track position on the next restart when he spun his tires.

Even though he struggled with tight conditions on his racecar, Busch had an excellent run, staying in the top six for the entire event. He led three times for a total of 66 laps, and finished sixth. Heading into the last race before the Chase, Busch sits in the second wild card spot, 23 points behind 10 place.

Logano before the race
Photo: Charlotte Bray
Joey Logano suffered from a stomach bug or food poisoning all weekend long. On Saturday, Michael McDowell drove the No. 20 car during Cup practice, and he was on standby as a backup driver for Sunday night’s race. Logano toughed it out for the entire 3-1/2 hour event, even though his helmet cooling system malfunctioned early in the race.

For the second week in a row, all three Joe Gibbs Racing teammates started the Cup race in the top 10, including Logano, who rolled off ninth. He went a lap down around Lap 116, fighting “wicked tight” conditions on his racecar, but made a pit stop within a few laps. Pitting earlier than the rest of the field allowed him to race back to the lead lap on fresher tires.

A little later, Logano was running 12th when he ran over something, necessitating a pit stop to replace right side tires. This stop put him a lap down again and he was unable to regain track position. He finished 18th, one lap down.

Logano talked about his illness: “It was one of the toughest weekend’s I’ve ever been a part of. I have to thank a lot of people though, from all of my crew guys who never stopped working on the car to Michael for stepping in for me and being on call, to all of the medical staff there at the track and with NASCAR. They did a great job taking care of me on Saturday and without them, I wouldn’t have been able to make it through that race. They did a great job and I can’t thank everyone who helped out this weekend enough.”

Points standings after Atlanta:
Denny Hamlin – 7th (+1)
Kyle Busch – 12th (+1) in 2nd wild card spot
Joey Logano – 18th

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

Gibbs Garage: Denny Hamlin grabs lead after late-race pit stop, credits crew with win Gibbs Garage: Denny Hamlin grabs lead after late-race pit stop, credits crew with win Reviewed by Beth Reinke on Monday, September 03, 2012 Rating: 5