Hamlin Secures Top-Five with Late Race Charge at Kentucky
Denny Hamlin made an impressive charge in the final laps in the #11 FedEx Freight Toyota to finish fourth at Kentucky Speedway in Saturday night's 267-lap Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race won by Martin Truex Jr.
Hamlin pitted for four tires during the final caution as the race entered overtime. Lining up sixth for the final restart, Hamlin wasted no time when the green flag waved and drove three-wide to the outside as the leaders raced into Turn 1. The aggressive move paid dividends as the #11 cleared Erik Jones exiting Turn 2, Hamlin picked up his final spot coming to the line as the caution waved for an accident a few rows back, ending the race.
Hamlin started fifth and quickly worked his way up to third before the FedEx car was squeezed three-wide in the middle, forcing Hamlin to back out, losing all momentum and dropping him outside the top-10. With passing at a premium, the poor track position forced the FedEx team to change their race strategy taking just two tires at the first caution.
By the end of Stage 1, Hamlin had worked his way up to seventh. During the stage break, the team bolted on four new tires and sent the FedEx Toyota back out sixth, but Hamlin was speeding entering his pit and was relegated to the back of the field.
Hamlin pushed the #11 hard and raced his way back into the top-10, aided by solid stops from the FedEx crew. As the laps clicked, Hamlin settled into seventh during a long green flag run and it looked like the team would have to settle for a top-10. But the late race caution gave Hamlin a much needed break that set him up for the final push in overtime, giving him his fifth top-five of the season.
“We just needed a little bit of speed here and there,” said Hamlin. “I thought we really actually had a fast car, but every time we went up front, we had a tire disadvantage. A lot of it came from me having a speeding penalty early. Only my second one of the year, but nonetheless at a race track that's very very difficult to pass on. We did a great job of rebounding. The whole FedEx Camry team did a great job to bring home a good top-five.”
Hamlin's fourth place finish moved him up two spots to seventh in the overall NASCAR standings, 172 points behind leader Kyle Larson. The Series will return to action next Sunday, July 16th, at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.