Hamlin Battles Back to Finish Third at KentuckyJuly 13, 2015
Denny Hamlin made an impressive charge from two laps down in the #11 FedEx Office Toyota to finish third at Kentucky Speedway in Saturday night’s 267-lap NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race won by Kyle Busch.
Hamlin started eighth and quickly worked his way into the top-five, before losing two laps to the field after making an unscheduled pit stop at lap 71 to change a flat right front tire, compounded by a penalty for speeding on pit road. But with a fast FedEx Toyota and a couple well-timed cautions, Hamlin was back on the lead lap with 140 laps to go.
Quick work by the FedEx crew during the next two cautions and with the handling to his liking, Hamlin flew through the field and was up to second behind Busch with 70 laps to go. A lap 206 caution sent the leaders to pit road where the #11 crew changed two tires and sent Hamlin back out with the lead for the restart.
Choosing the preferred outside lane, Hamlin took off on the restart and opened up a three quarter of a second lead over eventual runner-up Joey Logano. But 14 laps later the caution flew again erasing Hamlin’s lead.
On the final restart, Hamlin lined up on the outside again with Logano inside and teammate Carl Edwards behind. At the drop of the green, Hamlin came up through the gears with Edwards on his bumper, entering Turn 1 Edwards tapped his teammate ever so slightly, but enough to pick Hamlin’s rear tires up off the track, allowing Logano and Busch to get away. Hamlin tried to find a line over the final 43 laps that would close the gap, but was unable make up any ground on the leaders, crossing under the checkers third.
It was a banner race for all four Joe Gibbs Racing teams who finished in the top-five (Busch first, Hamlin third, Carl Edwards fourth, Matt Kenseth fifth) a first in the history of the organization.
In an effort to improve the quality of racing, NASCAR mandated a new low-downforce set of rules at Kentucky, which Hamlin was quick to praise following his fifth top-five of the season.
“You’re going hear both sides of the story, and the guys who ran up front are obviously going to like it,” said Hamlin. “But I came from two laps down and passed a ton of cars throughout the night, and there was a pass for the lead within 15 laps to go. You can’t complain a lot about that, especially on a track where it’s been hard to pass in the past.”
The finish moved Hamlin up one spot to 11th in the NASCAR standings following Kentucky, 170 points behind leader Kevin Harvick after 18 of 24 regular season races.
The series returns to action next Sunday, July 13 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.