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Hamlin holds off Truex for first Kansas Cup victory

April 22, 2012, NASCAR Wire Service, NASCAR.com



Hamlin holds off Truex for first Kansas Cup victory
KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- No. 56 leads 173 laps but finishes second as Hamlin earns second win of 2012

It was Denny Hamlin's day in the sun.

Taking advantage of changing conditions Sunday at Kansas Speedway, Denny Hamlin held off Martin Truex Jr. the final 30 laps to win the STP 400, his second victory of the season, his first at the 1.5-mile track and the 19th of his career.

The victory was the 199th for cars bearing the No. 11, breaking a tie for the all-time lead with the No. 43, made famous by Richard Petty, who drove to 192 of his record 200 wins with that car number.

Jimmie Johnson finished third, followed by Roush Fenway Racing teammates Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle. Truex moved into second place in the Sprint Cup Series standings behind Biffle, who leads by 15 points.

After a late round of green-flag pit stops put all the contending cars on the same sequence, the sun broke through the clouds for the first time all afternoon and changed the complexion of the race.

To that point, Truex had been dominant, having led 173 laps, but the changing conditions made Truex's Toyota "wrecking loose" in the words of the driver. Hamlin passed Truex for the lead through Turn 4 on Lap 237 and began to pull away, with Johnson pursuing from the third position.

To Hamlin, the sunlight was a welcome game-changer.

"Whether it was coincidence or not, our car definitely seemed like, [relative] to the field, was better once the sun came out," Hamlin said. "I felt like our car lost a lot of grip when the sun came out, but I guess a lot of guys did when that happened. I felt like all day I was behind the No. 56 [Truex], and his car looked so superior to the field.

"We just needed some kind of change -- weather or adjustments or something to get where he was at -- and we kind of got both of them. In overcast conditions, the cars run a little bit tighter, the grip level's higher in the race car, and it's more of a track-position type race. When the sun's out, the drivers, in my opinion, are more prominent.

"You move around, find the grip, do things in the car to make up for what you don't have. The slicker the conditions are, the better it tends to [be] for our race team. Luckily, we had that run in sunshine."

As clouds covered the sun once again, however, Truex began to close on Hamlin and widen his advantage on Johnson. With 10 laps left, Truex trailed Hamlin by .772 seconds. Five laps later, Truex had closed to .489 seconds behind.

Truex tried to dive beneath Hamlin in Turn 3 twice in the final three laps but couldn't stick the pass.

"Desperation," Truex said wryly. "I was a little bit faster than Denny at the end, but he was running against the wall right where I needed to be, and I was just trying to gain a little bit of ground.

"It was desperation -- last-ditch effort -- just trying something. There was no chance to make it work."

Though Truex's handling ills and Hamlin's surge to the front coincided with the appearance of the sun, Truex blamed his problem on a bad set of tires for the final run.

"I'm just not really sure what to think of that last set of tires," Truex said. "The car had been really good all day, we put the last set on, and I was just wrecking loose for the first 20 laps of that last run.

"Denny was able to get by me, and once he did, the race was over. The car got better longer in the run, and I was able to get back to him, but I'd get three or four car-lengths from him and pick up the aero push ...

"I guess if we can be this disappointed with second, it kind of shows how far we've come as a race team."

Notes-n-Nuggets

• Denny Hamlin earned his 19th Cup Series victory in his 231st start and joins Tony Stewart as the second repeat winner of 2012.
• This is Denny Hamlin's first victory at Kansas in his ninth start.
• Denny Hamlin is the ninth different driver to win in 13 races at Kansas.
• This is 199th win for car No. 11, most of all numbers after breaking a tie with No. 43.
• Joe Gibbs Racing earned its 95th Cup Series victory, second win of 2012 and second win at Kansas.
• This is Toyota's first Kansas victory of second victory of 2012.
• Martin Truex Jr. (second) has top-10 finishes in the past five races, a career high. This is Truex's best Kansas finish and puts him a career-best second in points.
• Martin Truex Jr. led 173 laps, the most of all drivers, but was passed by Hamlin for the final lead change with 31 laps to go. This is the ninth time in 13 Kansas races that the driver who led the most laps failed to win.
• Jimmie Johnson (third) scored his seventh consecutive top-10 finish at Kansas and fifth top-10 of 2012.
• Matt Kenseth (fourth) has top-five finishes in five races in 2012 including four of the past five.
• Greg Biffle (fifth) scored his fifth top-five finish of 2012 and seventh consecutive top-10 at Kansas.
• Kevin Harvick (sixth) has finished 11th or better in all but one of the eight races of 2012.
• Dale Earnhardt Jr. (seventh) has top-10 finishes in the past four races. This is only the second time he has finished in the top 10 in four consecutive races since moving to Hendrick Motorsports.
• Kasey Kahne (eighth) earned his second top-10 finish of 2012, both of which came in the past two races.
• The average speed of the race was 144.126 mph -- a new track record.
• The three cautions for 18 laps was the fewest for a Cup race at Kansas.

Watch highlights from the STP 400 at Kansas: