LOUDON, N.H. --- After he tweeted a prediction that he would win the Sylvania 300, the second race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, Denny Hamlin followed through, backing it up with a dominant victory in Sunday’s NASCAR race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Hamlin started 32d after a qualifying miscue but charged his way to the front in his No. 11 FedEx Toyota to take the lead on Lap 93. He dominated the race, leading four times for a race-high 193 laps, including the last 52 to record his fifth victory of the season and his 22d career NASCAR triumph.
Hamlin was never threatened, even on a late restart with about 21 laps to go, and ran away from the pack to deliver Joe Gibbs Racing its 100th career NASCAR Sprint Cup victory.
Hamlin, who finished 2.675 seconds ahead of runner-up Jimmie Johnson, celebrated with a burnout down the front stretch of the 1.058-mile oval. He brought his car to a stop on the granite stripe at the finish line and climbed out of his car. He took a batter’s stance, called his shot, and knocked an imaginary home run over the catch fence.
“It doesn’t hurt to have a little confidence there at the end,’’ said Hamlin, who moved up one spot in the Chase standings to third seven points behind Johnson who supplanted Brad Keselowki, last week’s winner at Chicago, as the Chase leader by one point, 2,096-2,095.
“I know we’ve made some big mistakes over the last two weeks, but I said we were fast enough to make it up and we were,’’ Hamlin said. “I’ve got a lot of these guys back until they die, I mean it’s my team and I’m just excited about everything.’’
Hamlin, who entered the Chase as the top seed after recording a series-high four wins during the 26-race regular-season, returned to New Hampshire in hopes of redeeming himself after a runner-up finish to Kasey Kahne in July’s Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at NHMS.
In that race, Hamlin led a race-high 150 laps and appeared to be the runaway favorite to win the race until a pit road miscommunication over whether to take four or two tires proved costly when he took four and lost precious track position, dropping all the way to 16th.
During Friday’s practice at NHMS, Hamlin rolled off the hauler with a car that was faster in pre-qualifying practice. However, a miscue cost Hamlin a shot at the pole when his car ran with race tire pressures instead of qualifying tire pressures, which are typically higher.
It resulted in a poor qualifying result that left Hamlin a distant 32d behind pole sitter Jeff Gordon, who entered 12th in the Chase points.
Hamlin created a stir with a Twitter message he posted after last Sunday’s race at Chicagoland Speedway where he finished 16th after his team suffered a pit road miscue in which his gas man, Scott Wood, failed to fully fuel his car on his last pit stop.
After gas man Scott Wood apologized to Hamlin, the driver took to Twitter and posted the following message: “This is 1 week of 10. We will win next week.’’
“Just confident that we could win,’’ Hamlin said Friday. “It’s no different than the nine Chase tracks that we go to, other than Dover where I’m going to be realistic. I feel like I can go win each and every one of them.
“Really, it was nothing more than that. It was really meant to be nothing more than just, `Hey, we’ll get them next week. We’ll win it next week.’ ’’Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.