Denny dominates at Pocono
Hamlin, FedEx Team Fight Back to Claim First Cup Victory
Denny Hamlin started first and ended first Sunday afternoon at Pocono Raceway but the greatness of his first Nextel Cup win will be measured by the recovery of the FedEx team following a cut tire on lap 50.
Forced into the pit by the incident, the FedEx Crew made substantial repairs to the #11 Chevy and returned Hamlin to action with a car nearly as dominant as it was from the start. The multiple stops for repairs forced Hamlin to charge form the back and he did so with abandon, climbing from 40th-place to the front of the pack, then taking the lead for good on lap 176 and holding on for the win.
The win was the first of Hamlin's young Nextel Cup career and puts him in good company as one of only two rookies to win in a Cup race at Pocono. The result moves the team up to ninth in the NASCAR Nextel Cup standings and into Chase contention while expanding Hamlin's lead in the Raybestos Rookie standings.
Kurt Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing's Tony Stewart, Brian Vickers and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top. Hamlin and Stewart's JGR teammate J.J. Yeley finished 15th. The Nextel Cup heads to Michigan International Speedway next Sunday for the 3M Performance 400.
"From the start I knew we had a very, very strong car. We were really good in practice and from the very start of the race I felt like we had a shot at winning," said Hamlin. "When we cut that tire I was pretty sure we had lost our chance but the guys on the crew were incredible and as they made more and more repairs the just kept getting better and better out there."
"It was a great day for everyone involved with this team. We have been running so well lately and we were hoping to build on our top-ten finishes and really challenge for a place in the top-ten. Today was a great team effort and I am so proud to a part of it. From here we just want to keep this momentum going and see we can keep building on our successes."
Hamlin started the day from the front Sunday after winning his second-career Bud Pole Award Friday at the famous 2.5-mile track. Two practice sessions on Saturday morning allowed the team to prepare in race trim and all indications were the #11 would be extremely competitive come Sunday.
It was clear from the start that Hamlin's car was the class of the field and, benefiting from the clean air out front, he pulled away from the pack. A lap 22 accident brought out the second caution of the day and Hamlin piloted the FedEx Chevy on to pit road for four tires and fuel. Content with the car he requested no changes to the car before being sent out to restart first on lap 24.
Shortly after the restart Hamlin reported that the car was becoming slightly tighter on the long run but was still handling well enough to put nearly seven seconds between himself and the second place car of Kurt Busch. With approximately ten laps to go before a green-flag pit stop, a cut left-rear tire forced Hamlin off the track and into the grass but he managed to avoid contact and limit the damage to that caused by the shredded tire. As he made his way back to pit road, the FedEx Crew prepared to make repairs and with a chance to inspect the damage they found the tire ripped apart the crush panels, left-rear quarter panel and battery compartment.
Mike Ford directed the crew through the repairs to the #11 Monte Carlo and, taking advantage of the extended caution, consistently sent Hamlin out to rejoin the field without losing a lap. By the time the race went green on lap 58 Hamlin was running in 40th place and struggling with the aero damage caused by the tire.
The caution flag would fly again only six laps later for debris and the crew would call Hamlin onto pit road to assess the repairs and remaining damage. The primary problem was a damaged battery compartment and the team went to work fabricating a cover, while also repairing the left-rear crush panels.
Hamlin restarted 35th on lap 66 and immediately came on the radio to tell the team how proud he was of the car and the work they were doing to get him back to the front.
After one more caution, and another opportunity for repairs, Hamlin restarted in 34th place on lap 74 and his march to the front started almost immediately. By lap 77 he had worked forward eight spots and into 26th place. On lap 83 he passed the #07 of Clint Bowyer for 20th. As teams started green flag pit stops on lap 97, Hamlin found himself running in the top five and at the halfway point of the race Hamlin recorded the fastest time on the track.
The #11 FedEx Chevy pitted three laps later for tires and fuel only as Hamlin again praised the handling of the car. As the cars cycled back on to the track Hamlin ran in eleventh and again went to work on the top-ten. In only seven laps he moved past Bobby Labonte, Brian Vickers, Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick to run seventh.
Thirty laps later Hamlin charged to the lead again as teams cycled through pit stops and again Hamlin asked for no changes to the #11. The crew rattled off an incredibly quick stop and sent Hamlin out to run sixth before the caution flag flew on lap 142. Hamlin reported that the car was "spot on" and he would stay on the track to restart fourth.
Following the restart Hamlin went to work on the #31 of Jeff Burton for third place and then moved past the #2 of Kurt Busch and into second. He then began an eight lap pursuit of race leader Greg Biffle that culminated in Biffle moving aside on lap 163 to pit. Hamlin followed him in one lap later and with Hamlin reporting that the car was slightly tight off, Ford ordered a slight wedge adjustment to go with four tires and fuel. Now running seventh, Hamlin had to wait until the cars running in places one through four to pit before he took the lead for good.
Hamlin's path to the checkered was interrupted by a late-race caution after Jeff Gordon hit the wall and brought the yellow and then red flag. The competitors parked on the track while debris was cleared and then lined up for a single file restart on lap 195.
Hamlin brought the field to the green and slowly built on his lead over the final five laps to seal the win.
Hamlin on Moving Into the Top Ten
"I see a lot of the same things with this team, the kind of similarities with what that #20 car did starting next week at this time last year. It's all going to be based on eliminating your mistakes and bad problems. I think for the first six or eight races, every other finish was outside the top-30 so we had ourselves in a hole. But we were a top-10 car contending every single week. We just had bad luck, blown motors, tires, just things going wrong and it seemed like these five or six weeks that we've been running top-10 just about every week. We've just eliminated our problems and we're just showing the potential of the race team."
Mike Ford on the Pocono Performance
"It wasn't an easy race by any means. It was a group effort. Obviously we had a fast car and we had our tire issue and we just had to pace ourselves and evaluate the damage and knew there was a lot of time left in the race and we did what we could with the time that we had. Every time we came back down pit road we had more to do. Really, we still had more to do than we could get to. Once it went back green for a while, we saw that we could run back toward the front and didn't think there was anyone that could outrun us so we opted to leave the car alone from that point and try and get track position and that worked out. We had a good car and the guys did a really good car. Denny did what the car would give him."
J.D. Gibbs on the #11 FedEx Team
"Is [making the Chase for the Nextel Cup] possible? Yeah, it's definitely possible. I think we kind of learned last year going through it with Tony. Just be real careful only worry about the next race. I really think we've got the people and the driver and team to do it but it's just a matter of taking care of each race, not looking too far ahead and getting yourself in trouble. Next week is Michigan and you do a good job there and you work down the line and you've got a pretty good shot."
For more information about the FedEx Racing team be sure to check out Team News.