|Date: 8/3/2009 8:17:12 PM|
Denny Hamlin Scores Emotional Pocono Victory
By DINO OBERTO
(Long Pond, PA 8-3-09) Denny Hamlin made a very emotional return to Victory Lane at Pocono Raceway as he won the Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 just a few days after his 91-year old grandmother, Thelma Clark, passed away. His feelings showed when he exited his car with a heavy heart and tears of joy.
“She always put out a prayer to Saint Jude for us and I think she would be pretty proud of how we did today,” said Hamlin, who drives a Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Hamlin, who started sixth, passed Clint Bowyer with nine laps to go and then pulled away to a .869-second win. It was the third Pocono win and fifth of his NASCAR Sprint Cup career.
Juan Montoya, Bowyer, Sam Hornish and Kasey Kahne completed the top five with Brian Vickers, Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart rounding out the top 10.
“I’m not sure what it is but I guess I just got a good feel for this place. Once you win here you get the feel for what it takes. This is what we didn’t get to show last week at the Brickyard and this is what we didn’t get to show here in June,” said Hamlin who moved up one spot to fifth in points.
“I felt like I gave Mike (Ford, crew chief) some good information and he took it and ran with it. It was a great set-up, adjustable set-up and when we needed to make changes he improved on it every time.”
Thanks to the newly adapted two-wide restarts, the final 25-laps resembled more of a Daytona/Talladega style race as drivers were making all types of maneuvers not generally seen at a track such as Pocono. Shuffling three and even four wide action was taking place through the corners that made for a very exciting conclusion.
“For as big a race track as this place is, that was as about as good as it gets. You got a bunch of hungry guys up there and I can assure you they’re all in it for the win.” said Hamlin.
The race was originally slated for the day before but nearly all-day rain forced the postponement to Monday at noon.
Hamlin’s victory made up for a dismal showing in June at Pocono when he lost 22 laps at the start of the race. From there on him and the crew made that race a test session for this month and it paid its dividends.
“It (car) wasn’t good on two tires then and it wasn’t good on two tires today. It was tough to use it as a really solid test session because we had dirty air the whole day back in June. We didn’t want to race with any guys and affect their race but we did learn some things, we really did. We felt like our car was really good through the practice in the June race. In this one today, I knew after about the second lap we really had a shot to win,” noted Hamlin.
Hamlin had one of the dominant cars throughout the 500 mile contest. The first half of the race he ran behind leader Jimmie Johnson and moved out front after NASCAR had a competition yellow on lap 20. He then began to show his hand, pulling away to as much as four second lead over Johnson.
“I think our race team has been really good the last couple months and we’ve been the closest car to the Hendrick cars. We’ve been getting there slowly but surely and today was a good day for us.”
Just past midway Hamlin was shuffled back in the pack by way of pit stops. Past Pocono winner Kahne took over the lead at that juncture and had strong running David Reutimann on his tail. Hamlin had been sixth at that point but was up to third by lap 115.
The leaders began a round of green flag stops ten laps later and when all was completed by lap 134 Kahne led over Hamlin. Hamlin again showed his strength as he retook the lead prior to lap 140.
Over the final 50 tours the action was very heated. Martin, Busch and then Bowyer all had a turn at the front and all the while positions from behind were changing in earnest.
On the final restart on lap 187 Bowyer was leading while Hamlin lined up sixth. As the race got back underway he blew past four cars and glued himself to Bowyer’s tail. The next two laps he tried to make a pass off turn three but got shut out each time. Then with good run off turn one, he powered underneath Bowyer. From there out it was no contest as he cruised to the checkers.
Montoya passed Bowyer on lap 192 and was content to some home second.
“It was the same car we had last week. We were really strong in clean air but in the back we struggled. We had great fuel mileage and I think everything played into our hands today,” said Montoya.
Both he and Bowyer had career best Pocono days.
“We had a decent car and it was fast during practice. We lost way to much track position and we kept battling back. We stuck it out and things went our way which really hadn’t been lately and it feels good to have something swing your way a little bit,” said Bowyer who picked up one spot in the standings to 15th.
“We’re not out of this thing (Chase) and we have to keep plugging away. We’re only 115 (points) out and there’s still plenty of racing to go.”
Stewart remains the points leader heading into Watkins Glen next week over Johnson, who fought back from three laps down to finish 13th.
Although the race was held one day later, a very respectable crowd was on hand as NASCAR estimated just over 80,000 spectators.
There were 17 lead changes among 11 drivers. The race average speed was 126.403 mph run in 3:57:22. 10 cautions slowed the action for 39 laps.
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