Friday, February 23, 2018
Sports

Hamlin wins NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — 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 Cheez-It 355 at the Glen at newly paved Watkins Glen International.

It's the first road course win of Hamlin's NASCAR Sprint 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 Sunday 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 had 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 and erased a 5-second lead the two leaders had built over Hamlin, Martin Truex and Joey Logano. Keselowski lost the lead on the restart when both he and Busch overdrove the first turn, and Hamlin sneaked past to take the lead before another caution flew.

Logano finished second, and Kese­lowski, AJ Allmendinger, Stewart and Busch completed the top six.

DRIVER CRITICAL: Sprint Car driver Bryan Clauson remained hospitalized in critical condition a day after a harrowing crash in the Belleville (Kan.) Midget Nationals USAC midget race. Clauson was airlifted to a hospital in Lincoln, Neb., after the Saturday night crash. Clauson is considered the nation's top short-track dirt-car driver. 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, speaking after Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen, 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.

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