Denny Hamlin wasn’t about to get shoved aside again.
Ignoring what he described as the worst pain he has ever felt in a race, Hamlin prevailed in a four-lap dash to the checkered flag Sunday to win the wreck-filled Sprint Cup race at newly paved Watkins Glen (New York) International.
It’s the first road course win of Hamlin’s Cup career and atoned for his stunning loss on the road course at Sonoma in June, when he was beaten by Tony Stewart with a bang on the last turn.
“It’s very hard to win these races,” Hamlin said. “I only made one mistake at Sonoma, and I didn’t win.”
Hamlin was virtually flawless at The Glen and was able to conserve enough fuel at the end, thanks to eight cautions for 20 laps. The race also had two red flag stoppages for 30 minutes.
“We executed perfectly. Didn’t make any mistakes on pit road,” Hamlin said. “Hoping for those caution laps that we needed. That allowed us to make it on fuel.”
That Hamlin was behind the wheel of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was in doubt before the race. He was in pain when he awoke.
“Knew I was in pretty big trouble,” said Hamlin, who has undergone two knee surgeries in his career. “I was thinking under the (last) red flag let’s get this over with so I can get out of this car.”
The race was shaping up as another duel between Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch in the closing laps. But a rash of late cautions shuffled Busch back.
Keselowski restarted with the lead with 25 laps to go in the 90-lap race, and Busch stalked him in second as the leaders began turning the fastest laps of the race around the 2.45-mile layout with the end in sight.
The sixth caution flew on lap 78 for a blown engine and erased a 5-second lead the two leaders had built over Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano, who was seeking his second straight sweep of the Cup and Xfinity races at The Glen.
Keselowski lost the lead on the restart when both he and Busch overdrove the first turn, a 90-degree downhill right-hander, and Hamlin sneaked past to take the lead before another caution flew.
“When I saw them move forward and lunge into the corner, I knew there was no way for them to get out with any sensible speed,” Hamlin said. “It was my opportunity.”
Hamlin held a slim lead over Truex and Keselowski as the three ran nose-to-tail entering the final turns of the race. Keselowski spun Truex in the last turn and Hamlin coasted to the victory.
Logano finished second, and Keselowski, AJ Allmendinger, Stewart and Busch completed the top six.
“We got ourselves in position to win the race, but I didn’t have the speed to make it happen,” Logano said.
Jeff Gordon drove the No. 88 Chevy for Hendrick Motorsports in relief of Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the third straight race and finished 14th in his 800th career start after an early accident. Earnhardt is recovering from a concussion and will miss at least two more races.
Despite a pit road penalty and a late crash, Chris Buescher remained on the cusp of making the Chase for the Sprint Cup title despite finishing 30th, one lap down. The surprise winner last week in the rain at Pocono came to Watkins Glen six points outside the top 30 in points, a requirement for making the postseason Chase, and now trails David Ragan by three points. Ragan also was involved in a crash and finished 33rd.
“You know, for us, kind of hoped we’d get a lot more than what we did,” Buescher said. `It’s a bummer the way it worked out.”
NHRA Northwest Nationals rained out
Rain washed out the finals the NHRA Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways in Kent, Washington.
The Top Fuel and Funny Car finals will be run in two weeks at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd, Minnesota, and the Pro Stock final will shift to the following event outside Indianapolis.
Steve Torrence will face Antron Brown in Top Fuel, and Del Worsham will line up against Ron Capps in Funny Car. In Pro Stock, Vincent Nobile will face Aaron Strong.
The Pro Stock final was moved to Indiana because Strong isn’t competing in Brainerd. Nobile’s Nick Mitos-owned team agreed to the postponement rather than to take a solo run in Brainerd.
Sprint Car star Clauson hospitalized after crash in Kansas
Sprint Car driver Bryan Clauson remained hospitalized in critical condition following a harrowing accident in the Belleville (Kansas) Midget Nationals USAC midget race.
Clauson was airlifted to a hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska, following the Saturday night crash. His family offered no details regarding his injuries in a statement provided by Bryan Clausen Racing.
“We appreciate the support of the racing community and are thankful for the outreach we’ve received,” the statement said. “We ask that you continue to respect our privacy as we focus on Bryan.”
Clauson is considered the nation’s top short-track dirt-car driver. He has won four USAC national championships and was participating in his 116th race of the season on Saturday night.
His schedule this year was on pace for 200 starts, and that included a 23rd-place finish in the Indianapolis 500.
The 27-year-old Indiana resident has started three Indianapolis 500s and was a development driver for Chip Ganassi in NASCAR, where he competed in 26 races over the 2007 and 2008 seasons. He also spent several seasons driving for Tony Stewart’s sprint car team. Stewart said after the NASCAR race on Sunday he hoped to see Clauson’s parents and fiancee, Lauren, soon.
“That kid drove for us for a long time and did a great job and never went anywhere,” Stewart said. “I don’t care what happened, no matter how bad his day was, he always found a way to smile with it. Him and Lauren being engaged, kid had such a bright future.”
Stewart did not sound promising about Clauson’s recovery.
“It sucks when it’s anybody in racing, it’s hard when you lose them, but it’s even worse when they’re somebody as close to you as Bryan was,” Stewart said. “I feel for Lauren today and Bryan’s parents and his sister, and I hope to be able to see them soon. Just thinking about them more than anything right now.”
Clauson was a three-time winner and the defending champion at Belleville. He flipped off the guard rail between turns 3 and 4 while leading. His car rolled several times and was hit by another car.
It was his second wreck of the weekend.
He started seventh on Friday night before he was in another vicious wreck. After that accident, he posted on Twitter his appreciation for his safety equipment, his chassis manufacturer and his team for getting his car ready for him to race Saturday night.
Many top NASCAR drivers immediately took to Twitter to ask for prayers for Clauson, a driver well known and well liked in the racing community. Among those anxiously awaiting an update on his condition were Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Larson and Clint Bowyer, who all have roots in dirt racing and USAC.
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