Denny Hamlin charged to the front from the sixth position with 13th laps left in Monday’s rain-postponed race and ended a 50-race winless streak in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series.
By Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service
LONG POND, Pa.— As it turned out, Denny Hamlin was right ... but not without a struggle, and not without a heavy heart.
Having said Friday that he expected to win the Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway, Hamlin charged to the front from the sixth position with 13th laps left in Monday’s rain-postponed race and ended a 50-race drought in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series.
After beating Juan Pablo Montoya to the checkered flag by .869 seconds, Hamlin wept in victory lane, overcome with emotion in the aftermath of the recent deaths of his grandmother, Thelma Clark, and the mother of tire specialist Patrick Mullen at Joe Gibbs Racing.
“We’ve come close in a lot of races this year and come up short,” said Hamlin, who led a race-high 91 laps. “Definitely had some angels with us today. Patrick’s mom passed away—our tire guy—a couple weeks ago and my grandmother a few days ago.
“I was definitely driving aggressive out there, trying to do everything I could to get a win for them. It’s emotional. We had a dominant car with two heavy souls in our racecar today. I said in my mind that I wasn’t going to settle for anything less than a win. With every corner I went in, that was 120 percent.”
With the strongest car in the field car at the 2.5-mile triangular track, Hamlin passed Clint Bowyer for the lead off Turn 1 on Lap 191 of 200 and stayed in front the rest of the way. Montoya slipped past Bowyer for the second spot on Lap 192.
Bowyer finished third, followed by Sam Hornish Jr. and Kasey Kahne. Brian Vickers, Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart completed the top 10.
Starting from the rear after going to a backup car—the result of a wreck in Saturday’s practice—Stewart rallied to salvage his ninth straight top-10 finish but saw his string of top fives end at five. Nevertheless, the Cup points leader expanded his lead in the standings to 197 over second-place Jimmie Johnson, who bounced back from a succession of problems to finish 13th.
The second-place finish was a tonic for Montoya, who had a dominant run the previous week at Indianapolis squelched by a pit-road speeding penalty. Good fortune in the pits helped Montoya at Pocono, when Robby Gordon and David Stremme crashed off Turn 2 moments after Montoya and Hornish had made their final pit stops on Lap 165.
When the rest of the contenders stopped under caution on Lap 167, Montoya and Hornish stayed out, along with Bowyer and Scott Speed, who both had pitted on Lap 158.
“Restarts made it interesting,” Montoya said. “I told (the team), I think we have a car that can win the race. I think the biggest thing was where the 11 (Hamlin) was going to be. I thought I had a car fast enough to hold (off the) 11. I got hit in the last restart, and he passed me.
“I don’t know. Ifs and buts out, my goal is making the Chase. That’s the bigger picture. If I make the Chase, they won’t remember this guy won the race, this one didn’t. The 18 (16th-place finisher Kyle Busch) won three races this year. … You know what I mean? They won’t be talking that he won three races (if he doesn’t make the Chase).”
In fact, Busch gained a position to 13th in the standings at the expense of David Reutimann, who ran 29th after a bump from Hamlin sent him spinning down the frontstretch on Lap 175 (Reutimann fell three spots to 16th). But Busch trails Greg Biffle (15th Monday) by 101 points with five races left before the field for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is set Sept. 12 at Richmond.