It was not Denny Hamlin's first win of the season but it was the first time in his career that the driver of the No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota was victorious on a road course. Hamlin led 10 of 90 laps during the Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International.
Hamlin almost didn't think he could race today. After the checkered flag flew, he gingerly got out of his car instead of the usual stand-on-the-door stunt most winning drivers do. "I just woke up with back spasms this morning," Hamlin explained in a Toyota Racing transcript after the race. "Just hits me every three or four months or so. I just wake up and can’t move. Really doubted being in the race car today to be honest with you, but can’t say enough about this whole FedEx Freight Toyota team."
After finishing runner up to Tony Stewart at the previous road course event at Sonoma, Hamlin was glad to finally get the monkey off his back. "It means a lot," he said in a post-race Toyota transcript. "I can’t tell you how disappointed I was we didn’t win the first one (in Sonoma). I just tried the best I could and overshot the corner and I didn’t want to do it this time and so I probably under drove and let those guys be a little closer than I should’ve."
During the race, strategy and fuel saving were big factors. The last time Hamlin's team would take fuel was Lap 49. With the way the cautions fell, the No. 11 team seemed to have the right idea. "Cautions," Hamlin said. "I just felt like this has always trended to be a lot of cautions at the end and I felt confident that we were going to get the caution laps that we needed to make it on fuel and we did.”
Hamlin noted that the final laps and restarts were 'hectic'. "Really, I didn’t do anything special. It was just the front two cars, the 2 (Brad Keselowski) and the 18 (Kyle Busch) just overshot the corner in that one restart and gave us an opportunity. And, then it was just about hitting my marks and making sure that I didn’t give those guys a chance like I gave Tony (Stewart) a chance at Sonoma."
With two wins now on the board, Hamlin is now fourth in the Chase standings. "You know, really proud of this effort," he said. "This is a great sign of things to come. I feel like we’ll be a good threat in the Chase.”
Joey Logano finished second and is now 9th in Chase standings. The No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford driver for Team Penske led eight laps.
"Overall our car was really good today," Logano said in a Ford Performance post-race transcript. "Driver shot himself in the foot a little bit with getting some damage in the Bus Stop when we were working our way back through the field. Ripped the splitter up. That was kind of the beginning of the end. Really hurt our racecar through the fast parts of the racetrack, so through the esses, the Carrousel, a little bit in 11. Didn't hurt us in the Bus Stop, that's where we were the fastest car. We got ourselves in position to win the race, but I didn't have the speed in the racecar to make it happen. It wasn't anyone's fault but mine. A little mad at that. Got close to that sweep again here at Watkins Glen, winning yesterday, getting second today. Just so close. Wish I could take one corner back out of the whole race and we'd probably be sitting in Victory Lane right now."
Brad Keselowski came home third and currently sits at the top of the Chase standings with four wins in the regular season. The driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford led the most laps of any driver in the race at 28. It is his fifth top-10 finish in seven races at WGI.
"I thought we had a really good Miller Lite Ford Fusion and got pushed back on a couple of the restarts," Keselowski said in a Ford Performace post-race transcript. "I was trying to sort my way back to the front and just couldn’t quite get there at the end."
Keselowski and the No. 78 Furniture Row Toyota of Martin Truex Jr. battled hard on the final lap. Unfortunately, Keselowski ended up turning Truex Jr. on the final turn, and as a result, it bumped the Furniture Row Racing team to eighth in final results.
"I got right up to the bumper of the 78 and couldn’t do anything there and he made a move to get by the 11 on the inside and the 11 blocked him," Keselowski explained. "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. 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. I am proud of my guys for a really fast race car and it was another crazy Watkins Glen day.”
The race lasted for two hours, 27 minutes and 48 seconds. There were a total of eight caution flags and two red flags.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series takes a weekend off before returing to Bristol Motor Speedway August 20. The Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race begins at 6:00 PM ET on NBCSN, PRN and Sirius XM Channel 90.