Hamlin drives to first superspeedway victory
TALLADEGA, Ala. – Denny Hamlin started his full-time career at Joe Gibbs Racing with an upset victory in an exhibition race at Daytona. Over the years, he added three more wins in races that didn’t count, including a sweep this season in the buildup to the Daytona 500.
But when it came to the restrictor-plate races that paid points, Hamlin came up empty time and again.
Hamlin, who opened the season with two exhibition victories only to finish second in the Daytona 500, was again sitting second in the closing laps Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. But he won a drag race with leader Kevin Harvick on a restart with two laps remaining, and was out front when NASCAR froze the field because of debris from an accident.
Hamlin let out a deep sigh when the yellow flag waved.
“Superspeedway win,” he said on his radio. “With points! With points!”
“I think I’ve gotten better. I’ve come close. When you drive as aggressive as I drove early in my career on superspeedways, you’re going to have a huge risk, huge reward,” he said after the win. “I was either wrecking or finishing in the top three every single superspeedway race and was wrecking most of the time. I think this way of driving and the way I’m doing things now kind of lends itself to being a little bit more consistent on these type of race tracks, and really you learn from the guys that are good at it.”
Hamlin became the eighth winner in 10 races this season as drivers jockey to grab the 16 spots available in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. A victory conceivably gives a driver an automatic berth, and Joe Gibbs Racing now has both Hamlin and Kyle Busch eligible for the Chase.
It didn’t appear that Hamlin had enough to beat Harvick, already a two-time winner this season, until the final restart. Harvick didn’t get the help he needed from behind, was hung out without any drafting partners, and Hamlin pulled out to a comfortable lead.
“We were in a good spot there at the end, and what you would want to put yourself in a position to win,” Harvick said. “Our line just never formed up.”
As Hamlin pulled away, an accident deep in the pack scattered debris, and NASCAR was forced to throw the caution when a bumper was seen laying on the surface.
The yellow prevented Greg Biffle, who led five times for a race-high 58 laps, from pulling out of line in an attempt to grab the victory away from Hamlin.
“I just didn’t want to pass too early. I was going to be the lone soldier on the outside lane,” Biffle said. “So I was just waiting. I was setting up to go by him but just never had the chance.”
Clint Bowyer finished third and was followed by Michael Waltrip Racing teammate Brian Vickers as Toyota took the victory and three of the top four spots.
Danica Patrick led two times for six laps, and the crowd roared its approval when she drove to the front early in the race. She finished 22nd.
IndyCar to run New Orleans: IndyCar will race in the New Orleans area in 2015, Gov. Bobby Jindal confirmed through a spokeswoman Sunday.
The open-wheel race will come to the 2.75-mile road course at the private NOLA Motorsports Park in Avondale, about 14 miles southwest of downtown New Orleans.
Jindal’s office told the Associated Press that the governor plans to make a formal and detailed announcement at the track today.
The $60 million NOLA Motorsports Park was designed by Alan Wilson, who also designed Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama, and Miller Motorsports Park near Salt Lake City.
The New Orleans track opened in 2011 and hosted AMA motorcycle racing in 2012. Developmental levels of open-wheel racing have run at the road course as recently as February, when it host the Cooper Tires WinterFest, featuring the Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000 series.
While work on the complex is expected in advance of the event, the track itself is basically ready to handle an IndyCar race, said Jeff Lail, the race series coordinator for Skip Barber Racing School, which has hosted events at NOLA Motorsports Park.
The race will add another road course to a schedule that is already packed with road and street courses.
The 18-race schedule this year consists of 12 street and road courses and just six ovals.