WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. —
Denny Hamlin was visibly in pain Sunday morning in the NASCAR driver’s meeting after waking up with back spasms, a condition that Hamlin admittedly fights through every few months and endured this weekend in the latest chapter of that story.
What differed about Sunday though, was that Hamlin was able to fight through the pain on NASCAR’s fastest road course, Watkins Glen International, to secure the win in the Cheez-It 355 at the Glen.
“It was a great day on the racetrack,” said Hamlin. “I don’t know what causes (back spasms). I’ve never had it happen on a race day. I woke up this morning and knew I was in trouble. If this had been Friday or Saturday, there’s no way I would have been in the car.”
Carl Edwards and Kyle Larson led the field to the green flag in the Cheez-It 355 at the Glen. Edwards jumped out to the early lead and would pull away, to set the pace for the ninety-lap event.
This was the first event at WGI since the $14Million repaving project that laid enough brand new asphalt to cover a two-lane road for twenty-two miles. It was also a big weekend for WGI in that they sold out the seating capacity and camping capacity for a second year in a row. The Glen opened up three hundred additional camping spots to accommodate race fans wishing to spend their racing weekend on the property in Schuyler County.
Edwards led the first twenty-five laps of the event, but the car on the move was former WGI winner AJ Allmendinger. Allmendinger took the green flag in the ninth starting position and quietly picked his way through traffic in the early going. The driver of the Kingsford No. 47 had advanced to the fourth spot by lap six.
The race took it’s first twists and turns on pit road as teams started making pit stops on laps thirteen through thirty-four. Some of NASCAR’s best in Jimmie Johnson, Allmendinger, Carl Edwards and eventual race leader Joey Logano were all busted for various violations on pit road.
Edwards peeled off to go on pit road on lap twenty-six and although he did not have the speeding issue, they did have an issue with a tire that was taken off the car and rolled over half-way through the pit stall toward the pit lane.
Per NASCAR rule, the tire taken off the car must stay inside an invisible line that is half way across the width of the pit stall. Edwards lost a considerable amount of positions, and would later get caught up in an accident in the carousel with thirty-three laps remaining.
Danica Patrick took over the lead of the race on lap thirty-four and led eleven laps- for a highlight in their season that has been lackluster at best. Patrick turned over the lead to Kyle Busch at the halfway mark on lap forty-five.
Lap fifty-three saw the race go under a thirteen minute red flag period as a large accident had occurred, while the field was negotiating the carousel portion of the race course.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s No. 17’s right side tires got air born off the curbing to driver’s left and spun to driver’s right. Stenhouse made contact head on into the wall, but the car bounced back into traffic collecting Jimmie Johnson.
Johnson made hard contact with Stenhouse, spinning Stenhouse around. Greg Biffle in the Cheez-It No. 16 and Austin Dillon was also caught up in the melee and suffered damage. All drivers would be evaluated and released from the infield care center.
With pit stops taking place, Brad Keselowski took the lead of the event on lap fifty-four with a fuel only call on pit road. The Miller Lite No. 2 didn’t have enough fuel to make it to the finish, but several caution and red flags late in the event would not make fuel a factor.
Hamlin had made his way into the second position on that restart, but Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch moved up to second on the restart. At that point, Busch and team’s plan was to run Keselowski as hard as they could to try and run them out of gas.
The sixth caution flag and restart of the event was very telling for the end of the event as the No. 55 of Alex Kennedy laid oil down from the middle of the front stretch near the flag stand, down the racetrack to the armco barrier on the very inside of turn one. Track crews spent two laps under yellow with cleanup, with the green flag waving on lap eighty with ten laps to go.
On the ensuing lap eighty restart, Keselowski and Busch both slid in oil and speedy dry up the racetrack in the first turn. Both cars went up and over the outside curbing, opening the door for Hamlin to take the lead on the inside lane. This turned out to be the winning move, as Hamlin would not relinquish the top spot, leading the final ten circuits.
“I saw them lunge into the corner and I knew there was no way they were going to make it so I just drove to the bottom,” Hamlin described.
That restart and two more on laps eighty-three and eighty-six were truly the difference for the driver of the Fed Ex Toyota.
“We just executed on our restarts today,” noted Hamlin. “You can see the lead even if you’re in eighth place so you want to make a pass. The last four or five years the road courses have been more aggressive. I think the Chase format has a lot to do with that.”
With the final run of the race being four laps in length, Hamlin was asked post-race how nervous he was about potentially making a mistake or being passed?
“I only made one mistake at Sonoma and I didn’t win. Today was a pretty flawless race for us. I sacrificed corner entry to make sure I hit my marks and make them make a move on me.”
Joey Logano finished second and said post-race that he enjoyed the race that took many late-race twists.
“It was crazy, typical Watkins Glen,” said Logano. “It was just awesome, crazy racing, full contact, just insane out there. It was a lot of fun from the driver’s seat and I’m sure the fans enjoyed it as well.”
Logano was asked how frustrating a second place effort was, knowing how fast their Shell Pennzoil No. 22 was?
“Just so close, wish I could take one corner back out of the whole race (where he suffered damage),” said Logano. “We probably would have been sitting in Victory Lane because I thought we were faster than the 11 car through the parts in the race that we needed to be. Still not awful considering the damage we had on the car.”
One headline to cap off the day was a disagreement on the track between Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. Keselowski made contact with the back bumper of Truex in the final turn Sunday, sending the No. 78 spinning into the wall and from a potential second place finish to a seventh place finish.
Truex drove up and made contact with Keselowski several times after the race to voice his displeasure with his race car. Keselowski took full responsibility for the contact after the race with the national media, but Truex didn’t seem appeased.
The Sprint Cup Series will now move on to a rare off week, before tackling the Bristol Motor Speedway night race in Tennessee in two weeks.
Post-Race Audio from Watkins Glen:
Race Winner Denny Hamlin:
Race Winning Car Owner Joe Gibbs and Crew Chief Mike Wheeler:
Second Place Finishing Joey Logano:
Rookie of the Race Chris Buescher:
About the Writer
Steven Ovens is the Northeast Dirt Correspondent for Race Chaser Online and the creator and host of the Turn 5 Live dirt track racing radio show, airing at 7:30 p.m. Eastern every Tuesday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
Ovens has spent his lifetime in the sport of dirt track racing, growing up in the garages of the Kerrick and Ovens families. He spent 11 years behind the wheel between go-karts and 4 Cylinder Mini Stocks which brings a unique perspective to his dirt track editorials.
The 29-year-old has a career in the growing health care business world, and is also serving as the full-time announcer and PR Director for both Outlaw Speedway (formerly Black Rock Speedway) in Dundee, N.Y. and Woodhull Raceway in Woodhull, N.Y.
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