Sunday, September 23, 2012

Hamlin overcomes qualifying run to earn fifth win

Photo by Pool/Getty Images for NASCAR
Denny Hamlin was the favorite heading into The Chase for the Sprint Cup, but the final stretch of the season has gotten off to a rocky start. A strong performance at Chicagoland ended in heartbreak as the No. 11 ran out of fuel on the final lap, relegating the team to a 16th place finish. On Friday his run of bad luck continued when the team failed to adjust the tire pressures from race to qualifying levels. Had this error not occurred Hamlin most likely would have had a top starting position based on how fast he was in all three practice sessions. Instead Hamlin was in 32nd for the start of the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Hamlin's goal was to make the top-10 by the 100 lap mark. He didn't miss a beat, taking the lead on Lap 94. Despite fighting steering problems, Hamlin was the class of the field. Crossing the finish line 2.5 seconds ahead of Jimmie Johnson, he secured his fifth win of the 2012 season and grabbed the 100th Sprint Cup Series win for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Pole sitter Jeff Gordon ran strong staying within the top five throughout the day. Following the race Gordon commented in regards to the roller coaster of a season the No. 24 team has endured, "Today was crucial to have that kind of a finish and a result...We're just gonna fight from here on out and try to get some consistent finishes. This team has gotten used to this kind of thing all year long."

Gordon's Hendrick teammates Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second, fifth and 14th respectively.

Although it was a race dominated by Denny Hamlin all 12 Chase contenders had solid days. For the first time in the history of the "playoff" format all drivers finished inside the top 20. Greg Biffle, who finished 18th was the lowest of the chasers.

Kyle Busch looked to have a strong car in the first half of the race. Unfortunately for Busch the engine woes he's experienced earlier this season came back into play when the team reported the No. 18 was down to seven cylinders. Busch would hang on to finish 28th and his fourth major failure of the 2012 season.

The biggest mover of the day, other than winner Denny Hamlin, was part-time Michael Waltrip Racing driver Brian Vickers. After posting fast times earlier in the weekend the team decided to change out the engine on the No. 55 forcing Vickers to start from the read of the field. Using pit strategy and taking only two tires when the leaders took four, Vickers led the race at one point before falling back to a ninth place finish.

Jimmie Johnson is now the points leader, one point ahead of Brad Keselowski as the series moves to Dover for the third race in the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup.
The final running order:
  1. Denny Hamlin
  2. Jimmie Johnson
  3. Jeff Gordon
  4. Clint Bowyer
  5. Kasey Kahne
  6. Brad Keslowski
  7. Tony Stewart
  8. Joey Logano
  9. Brian Vickers
  10. Ryan Newman
  11. Kevin Harvick
  12. Paul Menard
  13. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  14. Matt Kenseth
  15. Jeff Burton
  16. Regan Smith
  17. Martin Truex Jr.
  18. Greg Biffle
  19. Carl Edwards
  20. Bobby Labonte
  21. Sam Hornish Jr.
  22. Juan Montoya 
  23. Aric Almirola
  24. Marcos Ambrose
  25. Kurt Busch
  26. Jamie McMurray
  27. Landon Cassill
  28. Kyle Busch
  29. David Ragan
  30. David Reutimann
  31. Travis Kvapil
  32. David Gilliland
  33. Mike Olsen
  34. Stephen Leicht
  35. David Stremme
  36. Casey Mears
  37. Michael McDowell
  38. Scott Speed
  39. Joe Nemechek
  40. Tony Raines
  41. JJ Yeley
  42. Reed Sorenson
  43. Kelly Bires

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