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Hamlin highlights up-and-down JGR night

July 01, 2012, Jarrod Breeze, NASCAR.com



Hamlin highlights up-and-down JGR night
SPARTA, Ky. -- Extension, third-place finish top stories; Logano's struggles continue

Before Saturday night's Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway, Denny Hamlin had news to share with his friends on Twitter: a contract extension with Joe Gibbs Racing.

"Happy to know where my future is. Excited for tonight and beyond with my team."

"We're really blessed to have the partnership that we all have ... and a team that's capable of winning a championship. That's all I can ask for. So it's up to us to get that done from here on out."

--DENNY HAMLIN

Then he went out and finished third to end a two-race run of DNFs and move up three spots in the standings to fifth.

"A great day," Hamlin said. "When you know you're locked in and know where you're going to race for a really long time ... it's a good feeling."

Hamlin led 58 laps, the majority of those coming during the middle stages of the race. But as fuel concerns became a reality during long green-flag runs (the average under green was 48.6 laps), Hamlin had to pace himself.

"It seemed we had to go into fuel save mode and our car started going back," Hamlin said. "We knew we had to save fuel the entire last run. There was nothing I could do."

The final green-flag stretch was 48 laps. It began on Lap 220, with Hamlin restarting second to Brad Keselowski. It wasn't long before Keselowski opened up more than a 3 second lead. Hamlin dropped one more position within the final 10 laps as Kasey Kahne charged past to finish second.

"As much as I wanted to keep the 2 [Keselowski] honest and run him hard, I had to run a certain pace, and that's all I was allowed to do if we were going to make it to the end.

"So kind of anticlimactic for our day. We try to spend all day working on your car, and you can't run it to its full potential. So that part of it is a little frustrating."

Also frustrating for Joe Gibbs Racing is the continued bad luck for Kyle Busch and Joey Logano. Busch, who has endured a string of engine woes, led a race-high 118 laps but his dominance didn't last.

Busch first reported his No. 18 Toyota was loose and they made a track bar adjustment. Then the car was tight. On Lap 118, he made contact with the wall on the backstretch. This eventually led to a broken shock mount.

"It's definitely not any fun -- not as much fun as we were having early," Busch said. "Tough night again once again; just had to preserve and try to get through the best we could. We salvaged a heck of a finish for what all we had to go through. Definitely not any fun to drive, but had to do what we could on three pogo sticks."

Busch finished 10th and leads the wild-card standings based on his one victory and 12th-place position in points. Carl Edwards is 11th in points, but doesn't have a win.

"We're still within reach and everything," Busch said.

Logano dropped one spot to 16th in points and is fourth in the wild-card hunt. He hasn't had much luck since winning at Pocono, and he limped home to a 22nd-place finish at Kentucky with more damage to his No. 20 Toyota.

On Lap 162, Logano, Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman, who were running near the top 10 at the time, made contact with each other coming out of Turn 4. Newman was at the wall and bumped Logano, sending him down the track into Bowyer. Two laps later, Logano had fallen to 21st in the running. But his problems began much earlier.

"Well, my AC broke on Lap 20, so I didn't have a fan or anything. Just really, really hot," Logano said. "Didn't screw up my focus any, which is a cool factor, but it's not the finish we looked for [Saturday]. Just got hit from behind and knocked in my quarter panel and made me really, really loose for a few laps and never caught a caution like we needed."

Hamlin can relate. He had only one top-10 in the three races leading up to Kentucky, with a crash at Michigan and suspension issue at Sonoma among the problems he faced.

"You know, it's tough," Hamlin said. "They're all having their separate issues and things that are going on, and engine stuff, and wrecks and things like that. So it's very frustrating.

"But the law of averages should all work out. We had a really good run at the beginning of the season, and two straight DNFs. I think everything kind of works out in cycles, and those guys are just in a bad one right now."

But things are good for Hamlin. Although terms of his extension were not made known, Hamlin knows he is in the right place.

"We're really blessed to have the partnership that we all have ... and a team that's capable of winning a championship. That's all I can ask for," Hamlin said. "So it's up to us to get that done from here on out."

Watch Joe Gibbs Racing's season highlights below: