by New Hampshire Motor Speedway
LOUDON, N.H. – Denny Hamlin exited Turn 4 during Friday’s first practice session and slid down the frontstretch before crashing into the interior wall. On Sunday, Hamlin’s final exit out of Turn 4 went a whole lot better. With two of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ hottest drivers – Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. – on his heels, Hamlin was able to take his backup car to Sunoco Victory Lane at New Hampshire Motor Speedway after winning the Overton’s 301.
It was the third-career victory at NHMS for Hamlin, whose last win here came in September of 2012. The win also ended Joe Gibbs Racing’s winless streak in 2017.
“Friday was tough, but I think today shows the kind of team and equipment that we have, and what we are capable of,” said Hamlin. “It’s always great to come here and we’ve run here in the past. To get the win gives us a huge boost and hopefully we can carry that momentum moving forward.”
While it was nice to finally get a win for Gibbs, the team owner realizes that parity is a good thing for the sport and that New Hampshire Motor Speedway provides a great opportunity for his team to break through whenever they come here.
“I think it says you got to have respect for our sport, there’s a lot of great teams out there,” said Gibbs. “We love coming to Loudon. For whatever reason, this has been a favorite place for our drivers. I think for our whole team we like coming here for racing and for our sponsors.”
Larson, Truex, Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick round out the top-five.
Larson put together a strong run and had a shot to chase down Hamlin over the final 10 laps, but lap traffic kept the No. 42 from reeling Hamlin in. It wasn’t a completely disappointing day for Larson, who started the race in 39th after failing post-qualifying inspection after taking the pole on Friday.
“I was catching him a couple tenths, but then lap times evened off and I couldn’t carry the speed on exit like I needed to catch him,” said Larson, who picked up his best finish at NHMS since finishing second as a rookie here in 2014. “It was another hard fought race, and we’ve been able to finish second the last two weeks (after starting) dead last. I’m proud of our team and proud of everybody.”
On the heels of a victory at Kentucky Speedway last weekend, it looked like Truex might be on pace to win back-to-back races for the first time in his career. But the No. 78, which led a race-high 137 laps on Sunday, couldn’t get back to the front late in the race and had to settle for his sixth top-three finish of the season.
“The last restart we were third, but we didn’t get a good restart on the bottom and didn’t quite have the speed at the end of the race compared to the first 200 laps,” Truex said. “It was a solid third-place effort.”
Kenseth and Harvick were the 2016 July and September race winners, respectively.
The remaining top-10 finishers include Daniel Suarez, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson.
The big talk over the weekend was about the PJ1 substance that was applied to the track to help provide more grip for the drivers. In essence, it was supposed to create more side-by-side racing – and it’s safe to say that the fans weren’t disappointed, as there was competitive door-to-door racing all around the 1.058-mile oval on Sunday.
“I thought it was awesome; I was surprised how well it worked,” said Larson. “I like the element of change and how it may wear out slightly and wear out in different spots. Today, everyone I got around was running a different line. You could run three or four different lanes. It was fun.”
Hamlin echoed those sentiments: “As far as I’m concerned we should race here 10 times a year.”
Stage 1 Winner – Martin Truex Jr.
An unapproved deck lid in qualifying may have moved Larson from the pole position to the back of the pack for the start of the race, but the pilot of the No. 42 for Chip Ganassi racing wasted little time in moving back to the front. Larson went from 39th to third by the end of the first stage, putting him in a good position to make a run over the next 225 laps.
Truex, who moved from second to pole-sitter following Larson’s penalty, picked up the most points in Stage 1, leading all 75 laps.
Matt Kenseth, Larson, Jamie McMurray, Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Ryan Blaney, Hamlin and Chase Elliott rounded out the top-10 earning points in the opening segment.
Stage 2 Winner – Kyle Busch
Truex’s dominant opening stage didn’t translate to the second, as he fell back following a slow pit stop during the segment break. He was, however, able to move up to sixth by the end of the second stage.
Kyle Busch was the dominant car over the second 75 laps, leading 72 of them en route to the Stage 2 victory. While Kyle Busch pulled away from the pack out front, there were battles all over the track – with many going two- and three-wide to make passes, something rarely seen in past races at the 1.058-mile oval.
Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Truex, Kenseth, Blaney, Larson and Clint Bowyer rounded out the drivers earning second stage points.
• Atlanta Motor Speedway GM Ed Clark made good on a bet with NHMS GM David McGrath by delivering Georgia Peaches to Sunoco Victory Lane on Sunday. Clark gave the peaches to McGrath, New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and the Overton’s 301 race winner Denny Hamlin.
• McDaniels served as the honorary pace car driver to begin the Overton’s 301.
• The race took 3 hours, 0 minutes and 36 seconds.
• Martin Truex Jr. leads the point standings by 38 points over Kyle Larson.
• A total six drivers led Sunday’s Overton’s 301.