Proof that NASCAR drivers are indeed worthy of being held in the same regard as other sports stars came on Monday as Denny Hamlin, less then two weeks removed from ACL reconstructive knee surgery, burst by Jeff Burton and held off Jimmie Johnson for a win at Texas Motor Speedway in Monday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event.
Courtesy: NASCAR Media Relations
FORT WORTH, TEX. -- Denny Hamlin might have had a hard time climbing in his race car because of his bum knee but he certainly had no problem climbing from 29th starting position to Victory Lane.
Hamlin, who had knee surgery recently, held off a hard-charging Jimmie Johnson to win Monday’s Samsung Mobile 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.
A big crowd, in excess of 100,000, braved two days of steady rain and hung around for a race that delivered what Texas is known for – extraordinary things.
A multi-car accident just 20 laps from the finish set the stage for the blazing shootout between Hamlin and Johnson. The four-time Sprint Cup champion took on four tires at the finish while Hamlin took only two and Johnson whittled Hamlin's lead from three seconds to thousandths of a second.
It was Hamlin's second win of the season and boosted him back in the top 12 in the points positions. He won at Martinsville earlier this season and took advantage of the Easter Break to have his knee repaired, an injury suffered in a pickup basketball game.
His win Sunday came after race leader and four-time champion Jeff Gordon, along with other frontrunners, were eliminated in a free-for-all accident on an earlier restart. With Jeff Burton leading at the time, Tony Stewart, Gordon, Carl Edwards, Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jamie McMurray and Paul Menard wadded up on the frontstretch trioval with every one of them gunning for the front. It was one of those racing accidents where you just cannot pack twenty pounds in a two-pound sack.
Hamlin, Johnson and Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch managed to dodge the wreck and wound up capturing the top three spots in the race.
Rounding out the top 10 finish positions were Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Martin Truex, Jr., Greg Biffle and last week's race winner Ryan Newman. Burton wound up eleventh.
NASCAR threw a precautionary- caution at Lap 25 so teams could take a look at tire wear on the green race track. Two days of steady rain, two inches in the local area, had washed away whatever rubber was on the race track.
Pole-sitter Stewart led the first 20 laps then Biffle moved in front before the mandatory competition caution fell. When racing resumed on Lap 33, Biffle was still out front, but Stewart quickly took the lead and Kyle Busch moved into second. Johnson was third and Earnhardt had moved into fourth. Biffle dropped back in the field, down to seventh.
By Lap 50, Johnson had taken the lead. Stewart was second, Earnhardt third, Gordon fourth and Bowyer fifth. At this early point in the race, it appeared Johnson was liking the new spoiler that replaced the wing on the rear of the car. Monday was the first race on a big track with the spoiler. The spoiler was raced for the first time this year at Martinsville and most drivers said they couldn't tell much difference.
At 60 laps, the top 10 consisted of Johnson, Stewart, Earnhardt, Gordon, Bowyer, Burton, Edwards, Montoya, Kahne and Biffle.
Earnhardt took over second place on Lap 67. Ten laps later, he passed Johnson for the lead.
The caution came out on Lap 80 for debris on the track after Brian Vickers spun when his Toyota cut a right rear tire.
When the race resumed on Lap 84, Stewart was back out front with Earnhardt second. Another caution on Lap 100 for debris on the track (Vickers' Toyota had another tire problem) slowed the field again. Johnson told his crew he might have run over Vickers' tire carcass before the caution.
When the track was cleaned up and the green flag waved again at Lap 107, the front of the pack was sprinkled with cars that only took two tires, including leader Earnhardt, Burton, Gordon, McMurray and Stewart.
Sam Hornish brought out another caution on Lap 110. The restart on Lap 116 had Earnhardt out front with McMurray second. However McMurray, the Daytona 500 winner, took over the top spot one lap later. Reutimann, Hamlin and Kurt Busch were running in the top five. Burton dropped way back in the field (23rd) after running up front all day as the result of a pass-through penalty for hitting the commitment cone on pit road.
Earnhardt, meanwhile, regained the lead on lap 127 when he took the high line around McMurray in Turn 1. Earnhardt's performance at this point in the race had the Earnhardt Army of fans sitting on top of the world. It has been a long, dry spell since Earnhardt won a race - his last victory coming at Michigan in 2008, 64 races ago.
By the halfway point of the race, Gordon and Johnson were back up front and Earnhardt was back in 18th due to pit cycles. Gordon led with Johnson second but Montoya took second when Johnson pitted and then took the lead when Gordon pitted. Montoya pitted in sequence with Gordon and Johnson and that put Earnhardt back out front again.