Denny Hamlin

In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after ISM Raceway

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Photo by: Christian Petersen

The West Coast Swing continued in Avondale, Arizona at ISM Raceway on Sunday, March 11th for the TicketGuardian 500, where a familiar face earned his 40th career victory.

A rookie scored his best finish, while his teammate scored the first top-5 of the season for the organization.

Two organizations put all four of their teams inside the top-10, one for the first time in the organization’s history.

No. 1 Chase Elliott – Chase Elliott earned a third-place finish after running inside the top-10 majority of the day.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver scored the first top-5 in 2018 for the organization. The team has failed to find speed to compete with the Fords that have dominated and competed for the top positions so far this season.

Elliott, who finished second one year ago, earned stage points in Stage 1 (third) and Stage 2 (ninth). Elliott is tied with Alex Bowman in the points standings for 16th, 77 points behind points leader Kevin Harvick.

No. 2 Daniel Suarez – Daniel Suarez finished eighth at ISM Raceway, his best finish of 2018.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver ran as high as fifth throughout 312 laps. He gained ten positions from his 18th place finish one year ago.

Suarez sits 22nd in the points standings, ahead of veterans Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray, and Kasey Kahne.

No. 3 William Byron – William Byron earned his best finish to date after previous finishes of 23rd (Daytona), 18th (Atlanta), and 27th (Las Vegas).

Byron led his first laps in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series before finishing in 12th place. Byron led for 15 laps, Laps 195 through 209.

Byron sits 21st in the point standings, 100 points back.

Can the rookie better his finish on the third and final stint in the West Coast Swing? Byron has one top-5 finish at Fontana, a fifth place finish in the Xfinity Series in 2017.

No. 4 Kurt Busch – Kurt Busch earned his second top-10 of the season with a tenth place finish at ISM. Busch led six laps in addition to earning the Stage 2 victory on Sunday.

Busch, who has one career victory at the one-mile track, improved his finish by 11 places from 2017.

Busch gained two spots in the standings. He now sits 11th, six points behind Aric Almirola in tenth, and -51 from Harvick.

No. 5 Denny Hamlin – Denny Hamlin rebounded from a 17th place finish one week ago to earn his third top-5 of the season.

Hamlin earned stage points in Stage 1 when he finished fourth, while his teammate Kyle Busch took home the stage victory.

Hamlin led 33 laps in the final stage of the event before bringing his FedEx Freight Toyota home to a fourth place finish.

Hamlin is the highest ranked driver in the points of this week’s Top 5. He sits sixth in the standings, 31 points behind.

Notables: The teams of Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing both had all four teams earn top-10 finishes. It is SHR’s first time in history at the feature.

Matt DiBenedetto finished in the 25th position after taking to social media earlier in the week for sponsorship. DiBenedetto had Zynga Poker sign on as a primary, while Hamlin, Harvick, and Darrell Waltrip were secondary sponsors.

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In the Fast Lane: Most Improved after Atlanta

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Photo by: Kevin C. Cox

The weather at Atlanta Motor Speedway hindered the start of the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, causing a two-hour rain delay before taking the green on Sunday afternoon.

A veteran overcame pit road issues to score his second victory at the track in an astonishing time gap since his first, all while paying tribute to the late driver he replaced.

This week’s Top 5 were steady contenders, one driver used a different strategy from the rest to advance his chances at an early season victory, while others were consistent in earning stage points.

No. 1 Denny Hamlin – Denny Hamlin went from the bottom of the grid to the top of it, jumping 34 spots from a year ago when a broken rear-end ended his day in the 2017 Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.

This year the Joe Gibbs Racing driver used a two-pit-stop strategy during the final stage in an attempt to earn him a win at the 1.5-mile track. Hamlin’s first win at Atlanta came in 2012, and he has a 22.8 average finish since the victory.

No. 2 Kevin Harvick – Kevin Harvick’s recent dominance at Atlanta has proven that it was only a matter of time before the Stewart-Haas Racing driver returned to victory lane there.

Almost two decades separate the 2014 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion’s two wins at the track. Harvick won in just his fourth start in 2001 for Richard Childress Racing driving the No. 29. Harvick returned to victory lane in the No. 4 saluting Earnhardt just as he did 17 years ago.

Harvick was one of several drivers that dealt with pit-gun problems while being serviced on pit road. Harvick overcame the trouble to earn the 38th MENCS victory of his career.

No. 3 Aric Almirola – Aric Almirola has not wasted any time showcasing his talent and deservingness with the No. 10 Smithfield Ford at Stewart-Haas Racing.

Almirola started 11th and finished in the 13th position, but was a top contender throughout the event. Almirola earned stage points in two of the three stages, finishing fifth in Stage 1 and eighth in Stage 2. He sits ninth in the points standings, tied with Paul Menard with 66 points.

No. 4 Austin Dillon – Austin Dillon had a quiet, but effective day – earning a 14th place finish. Dillon ran as high as sixth, with a 15th average position throughout 500 miles.

Dillon has failed to earn a top-5 or top-10 at the oval since becoming a full-time driver in 2014, but he has made some gains. Dillon improved his finish by 18 positions from one year ago.

The Richard Childress Racing driver sits sixth in the standings, 19 points behind new points leader Joey Logano.

No.5 Clint Bowyer – Clint Bowyer earned his first top-5 finish at Atlanta after finishing third on Sunday. Bowyer was the runner-up after Stage 1 and finished ninth in Stage 2, before earning his first top-5 of the season.

Bowyer jumped eight spots in the standings, from 13th to fifth. Three points separate him from Hamlin in third, and 15 from Logano.

Can Bowyer break a 187-race winless streak to score his first win in almost five years at Las Vegas?

Notables: Daniel Suarez excelled at Atlanta before falling back to a 15th place finish, the lowest position for the 26-year-old throughout the day. He was as high as third and earned a 10th place finish at the end of Stage 2.

Several drivers, including defending MENCS champion Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Alex Bowman, and Harvick, had problems with the new mandatory pit guns. Truex’s team went through three guns because they failed to work properly.  Will the problems be consistent or will they be resolved early in the season?

Denny Hamlin wins the Southern 500

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Photo by: Matt Sullivan

Denny Hamlin battled through some adversity Sunday night, but that didn’t hinder the Joe Gibbs Racing driver from contending for the win or pulling into Victory Lane.

The “Flying 11” did exactly that after Hamlin made a mistake with 44 laps remaining in the Bojangles’ Southern 500. Hamlin missed the entrance to pit road and was forced to come back around for his final pit stop of the night, exiting in the 14th position.

Hamlin drove through traffic while cutting into Martin Truex Jr’s lead, and regained on Lap 365 when Truex cut a tire.

“That’s as hard as I can drive,” Hamlin said, “What can I say–it’s the flying 11. It means everything to me. I mean, as far as I’m concerned, this is a throwback to my history – this is for Ray Hendrick, Bugs Hairfield, Wayne Patterson, Eddie Johnson, the short track guys that I grew up watching.”

Hamlin swept the weekend at Darlington Raceway just as he did seven years ago, when he last won the prestigious event.

“This one’s sweeter,” he acknowledged, “going through the adversity we did.”

Truex, who finished eighth despite his late trouble, clinched the regular season Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship after leading 34 laps and winning both Stage 1 and Stage 2 of the event.

“It was definitely a bittersweet night for us, to come up just two laps short there, blow a tire at the end after having no issues with tires all night and having such a good race car,” Truex said. “I don’t know if that last run was the longest one we made all night. I’m not really sure to be honest. I was kind of out there caught up driving my guts out at the end trying to hang on.”

Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon, and Erik Jones rounded out the top-5, while Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Truex, Kevin Harvick, and Jamie McMurray finished inside the top-10.

Only one race remains for someone to make their way into the playoffs with a win. Chase Elliott, Kensth, and McMurray remain on the bubble, and Clint Bowyer is on the outside looking in.

A win is now Bowyer’s only chance. He finished last after suffering an engine failure on Lap 18.

The MENCS head to Richmond Raceway on Saturday, September 9th for the last race before the start of the 2017 playoff season. Hamlin is the defending race winner. Can he win for the second week in a row?

Find out Saturday, September 9th at 7:30 p.m ET on NBC Sports Network.

Denny Hamlin earns New Hampshire victory

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Photo by: Sean Gardner

Denny Hamlin held off a charging Kyle Larson in the closing laps of the Overton’s 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway to earn his first victory of the season.

Hamlin led 54 laps toward his first win since last September at Richmond Raceway. Hamlin regained the lead on Lap 267 after passing Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth.

“It’s a great feeling,” Hamlin said in Victory Lane. “I know we’ve been getting better and better as the year goes on, but definitely needed a win for the organization and for myself and just kind of get some momentum going with the playoffs coming up, so we’ve got to get going. Really, this is awesome.”

Hamlin snapped a winless streak of 28 races in a backup car after spinning in Friday’s first practice.

Larson finished second for the seventh time this season after having to start in the 39th position after his pole winning time was disallowed by NASCAR for having unapproved parts on the No. 42 Target Chevrolet.

That didn’t slow Larson down from making up ground. He charged to the front of the field and finished .509-seconds behind Hamlin.

“Finished second, but another hard fought race,” Larson said. “You know, this is the third time we’ve had to start last and drove up to second. I wish we could have been a spot better again, but really proud of my team and proud of the cars that they’re bringing for me to drive each and every week.”

Stage 1 winner Martin Truex Jr. finished third after leading a race-high of 137 laps, followed by Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick.

Kyle Busch recovered from two pit road speeding penalties to finish in the 12th position. Busch 95 laps and secured the Stage 2 win.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series head to Indianapolis, Indiana for the 24th running of the Brickyard 400 on Sunday, July 23, 2017 at 2:30 p.m ET on NBC.

Denny Hamlin wins at Watkins Glen 

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Photo by: Chris Trotman

Denny Hamlin held onto his lead in the closing laps of the Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International to grab the first road course victory of his career.

Martin Truex Jr was charging to battle with Hamlin for the lead until Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski tapped him and sent him spinning in the final lap. Keselowski finished third while Truex survived for a top-10.

The race was packed with cautions and included two red flags during the 90 lap event on Sunday.

A multi-car wreck involving Jimmie Johnson, Austin Dillion, Greg Biffle, and Ricky Stenhouse promoted a red flag after Stenhouse lost control of his No. 17 Ford on Lap 53.

The second and final red flag came in the closing laps after last week’s winner Chris Buescher, Kevin Harvick, Danica Patrick, and David Ragan made contact on a restart.

Hamlin, who scored his second victory of 2016, shared that he battled back spams throughout the day.

“I really doubted getting into the race car today,” Hamlin said “But I’m really proud of this FedEx Freight Toyota Team.”

Hamlin was all smiles in victory lane despite having to walk to celebrate his win. Hamlin blew the tires off his car in a celebratory post-race burnout.

“This means a lot.” Hamlin said.