Hamlin survives late-race chaos to earn first road course win at The Glen

By Tyler Head

WATKINS GLEN After coming up just short of victory earlier this season at Sonoma Raceway, Denny Hamlin held off a couple of hard chargers at Watkins Glen International to win the Cheez-It 355.

Hamlin’s No. 11 FedEx Toyota took the lead on a restart with 10 laps to go when then-race leader Brad Keselowski ran wide in turn one. Hamlin never looked back, surviving two late-race restarts to pick up the 28th win of his career and his first on a road course.

“Really proud of this effort. This is a sign of great things to come,” Hamlin said. “I feel like we’ll be a good threat in the Chase.”

Hamlin’s victory came before a sell-out grandstand crowd, the second consecutive for Watkins Glen International.

Last lap contact costs Truex, Larson top-5 finishes

While it was all smiles for Hamlin and his crew in Gatorade Victory Lane, there were several unhappy drivers at the end of Sunday’s race.

Martin Truex Jr. was on Hamlin’s back bumper entering the last corner of the final lap, but contact from Keselowski sent his No. 78 Furniture Row Toyota spinning. Truex came across the line 7th, and during the cooldown lap gave Keselowski’s No. Miller Lite Ford several taps to show his displeasure.

“I went high and the 78 went high and by then I was already deep in the corner and got into him and turned him. That was really unfortunate and the last thing I wanted to see,” Keselowski said, taking blame for the contact. “This track here, when you drive into the corner, you commit and sometimes you don’t know what will happen when you commit. The last thing I wanted to do was turn him.”

As Kyle Larson and AJ Allmendinger tried to avoid Truex’s spin the two made contact, sending Larson’s No. 42 spinning into the barrier near the end of pit road. What could have been a top-5 finish became a 29th place result for Larson.

“It’s on me,” Allmendinger said while discussing the contact. “I never meant to do it. It’s not going to help the case. I know he’s going to be (explitive) off and he should be (explitive) off. I’d be.”

Larson is the last driver above the cut line for the Sprint Cup Series Chase for the Championship, just eight points ahead of Trevor Bayne.

More contenders find trouble in series of wrecks

The issues for Truex and Larson weren’t an anomaly in Sunday’s race. Several other drivers found trouble during the 90-lap event.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. lost control of his No. 17 EcoBoost Ford coming out of turn 5 on lap 53, collecting Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle and Austin Dillon.

We were just hustling hard on that restart and got loose over the curb and just kind of spun. From that point we were just along for the ride,” Stenhouse said after being released from the infield care center. “It looked like everybody scattered and it was probably pretty hard to see. We got hit pretty hard.”

The damage to Dillon’s car limited him to a 31st place finish. Dillon entered the race 61 points to the good to make the Chase field; he now sits 47 points above the Chase cut line.

Johnson meanwhile suffered his fourth DNF due to a crash in nine races, finishing 40th.

After a 13 minute and 19 second red flag the race restarted on lap 57, but it didn’t take long for more drivers to find trouble. Four cars were involved in a crash in turn 5, including polesitter Carl Edwards. Edwards led the first 25 laps of the race, but was never able to rebound from the accident to get back into contention, finishing 16th.

An accident coming out of the bus stop with just seven laps to go collected some more top names and brought out the race’s second red flag.

Both Chris Buescher and the man he’s chasing for 30th in points, David Ragan, suffered damage in the crash, finishing 30th and 33rd respectively.

These CSX guys, they worked really hard to get this fixed quickly and got back on track and took the green flag with everybody else there. I am proud of them for that. They did a good job and we were still running there at the end,” Buescher said. “In the grand scheme of things, from a points standpoint, it was a little bit of a gain but we definitely don’t want to do it like that anymore.”

Buescher now trails Ragan by three points with four races remaining before the Chase field is set.

Kevin Harvick also suffered heavy damage and wasn’t able to return to the action. He finished 32nd, 7 laps down, and relinquished the series points lead to Keselowski.

The Sprint Cup Series has a rare off week next weekend before returning to action at the Bristol Motor Speedway on August 20th.