Sunday, September 23, 2012

Gibbs Garage: Denny Hamlin snags 100th checkered flag for Joe Gibbs Racing

Denny Hamlin celebrates in Victory Lane at NHMS.
Credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images   
Lobster is on the dinner menu for Denny Hamlin in New Hampshire tonight. He brings home not only the 22-pound crustacean, but a historic victory for team owner, Joe Gibbs – his 100th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win.

Hamlin qualified 32nd because the No. 11 team accidentally put race air pressures in the tires instead of qualifying pressures. This was the second error in two weeks by the pit crew, but Hamlin and Grubb didn’t let it get them down. In fact, Coach Gibbs praised them for being supportive of the team overall, including the guys who made mistakes.

Darian Grubb
Credit: Geoff Burke  
“For two weeks in a row, we had two things happen on our race team … and I think the way Denny reacted both times was just absolutely great. I really appreciate the way he handles everything,” Gibbs said. “Darian just does a great job of that, too. It would be easy for the guy in charge to go off on somebody, but you know, really, many times, that can make the difference down the road. Because those guys, those guys are going to remember that, the way they were treated and I think they would die for them both.”

Starting the race toward the rear didn’t seem to bother Hamlin in the least. At a track where passing is tough, Hamlin voiced his plans in a pre-race televised interview: “My goal is to get to the top 10 by Lap 100,” he said. “There’s no reason why the sky shouldn’t be the limit for this team.”

Hamlin shares his burnout with the No. 11 team
Credit: Jamie Squire
But it didn’t even take him half that number of laps to crack the top 10. By Lap 9, Hamlin was 22nd. By Lap 23, 18th. By Lap 39, 12th. Then during the competition caution, the FedEx crew gained their driver two spots on pit road and he restarted 10th on only Lap 46. The FedEx Toyota was unbelievably fast, picking off spots and inching toward the leader, Kyle Busch. Hamlin overtook Busch around the one-third mark of the race and never looked back. He led four times to carry almost two-thirds of the race (193 laps.)

The only blip on the No. 11 team’s radar screen was caused by windy conditions kicking up trash onto their car’s grille. With the water temp starting to rise with about 100 to go, it was Kyle Busch for the assist, as he backed up to Hamlin to clear debris.

With the win and bonus points for laps, Hamlin moved up one spot in the Chase standings to third, only seven points behind leader Jimmie Johnson.

Credit: Rainier Ehrhart/Getty Images 
Kyle Busch started strong on the outside pole for the Sylvania 300. After a two-tire stop during the competition caution, Busch grabbed the lead from Jeff Gordon on the restart. The lightning-fast No. 18 M&Ms Toyota led the next 48 laps, until Hamlin took over on Lap 94.

A little past the halfway mark, Busch said the car was losing power, and hit pit road during the third caution to diagnose the problem. Crew chief Dave Rogers suspected they had lost a cylinder, and Busch dropped back to the low 20s. In an altruistic move, Busch backed up to Hamlin to remove trash from his Chaser teammate’s nose. He brought his injured No. 18 Toyota home in 28th, a couple laps down.

After rolling off the grid in 18th, Joey Logano quickly gained spots, and was up to 14th in the first 10 laps. The team spent the first leg of the race trying to dial in the handling, which was loose in, tight center and loose off. A two-tire stop under the third caution proved to be a turning point, as the No. 20 pit crew gained their driver 16 spots, getting him out in third position.

“Jason (Ratcliff) made a great call there just past halfway to take two tires and get some track position,” Logano said. “Having the two tires, the better handling car and the track position was huge.”

Logano slid back to 12th, but with four fresh tires on the next green flag stop, he rallied to the top ten. Crew chief Jason Ratcliff kept the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota out on the final caution, allowing Logano to capture an 8th place finish, his 10th top 10 of the season.

“We were running our fastest laps at the end of the race, so it made sense for us to just stay out there at the end. It’s great to have two top 10s in the last two weeks," Logano said. "And it was a big day for Joe Gibbs Racing. That was awesome to see them win their 100th Cup race as an organization. I’m proud to say I was a part of that."

Points standings after New Hampshire:
Denny Hamlin – 3rd (+1)
Kyle Busch – 13th
Joey Logano – 18th

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Beth Bence Reinke is a columnist, support editor & media rep for Skirts and Scuffs. She writes "Gibbs Garage," Joe Gibbs Racing Sprint Cup team recaps, for the 2012 season. Her column, “Faith on the Frontstretch,” explores the role of faith in motorsports. Beth is also the author of Race Fans’ Devotions to Go, a devotional book geared toward female NASCAR fans. Follow her on Twitter at @bbreinke or reach her at bbreinke@skirtsandScuffs.com

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