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Hamlin Scores Top-10 Finish at Sonoma

June 25, 2018

Denny Hamlin finished 10th in Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Sonoma Raceway, charging his way through the field in the #11 FedEx Express Toyota to collect his fifth top-10 finish at the 1.99-mile California road course.

After battling his way inside the top-five in Stage 2, Hamlin elected not to pit with the leaders as they made scheduled green-flag stops in the segment’s closing laps. The decision allowed him to assume the race lead where he remained as the segment ended, collecting his second Stage win of the 2018 season.

While the strategy poised Hamlin for a valuable Stage win, it also forced him to pit during the Stage break while a majority of the leaders stayed on track. After getting four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment, Hamlin lined up 20th for the restart to begin the race’s final 60-lap segment.

The final Stage ran caution-free, increasing the importance of the teams’ pit strategies. Hamlin made his final scheduled green-flag pit stop with 20 laps remaining, with the ultimate goal of having fresher rubber to contend with the race leaders. He was scored 17th when he first returned to track, but he continued to fight his way to the front, making it to 13th with five laps remaining. It was until the race’s final lap where Hamlin made some aggressive moves to pass multiple competitors and break his way into top-10.

“We definitely had a car that could contend (for the win), we just didn’t have enough time to make something happen in the end,” said Hamlin, who captured his ninth top-10 finish of the 2018 season at Sonoma. “We had a decent pit strategy and really passed a lot of cars though, and overall we learned more for our next visit.”

Hamlin started the 218.9-mile race from the 21st position, but he maneuvered his way to eighth with only a few laps remaining in the segment. He ended up pitting right before the Stage end, forgoing the potential bonus points, but positioning himself for a fourth-place starting spot to launch Stage 2. He held onto his position and assumed the race lead, and when the caution signaled the second segment end, Hamlin was the victor, notching 10 Championship points and one Playoff point.

Hamlin’s 10th-place finish at Sonoma keeps the #11 FedEx team eighth in the current NASCAR standings. The Series next step is Chicagoland Speedway next Sunday, July 1.