Denny Hamlin stormed to his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory of the season Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Hamlin led 54 of 301 laps in the No. 11 Toyota, taking the checkered flag of the Overton’s 301 with a .509-second margin of victory over a fast-closing Kyle Larson. Hamlin’s third win at the 1.058-mile track was the 30th of his career in NASCAR’s premier series, marking the first triumph this year for Joe Gibbs Racing.
“Just it’s a great feeling,” Hamlin said in Victory Lane. “I know we’ve been getting better and better as the year goes on, but definitely needed a win for the organization and for myself and just kind of get some momentum going with the playoffs coming up, so we’ve got to get going. Really, this is awesome.”
Hamlin snapped a personal 28-race winless skid dating back to last September at Richmond Raceway. He did so driving a reserve car after crashing his primary No. 11 during Friday’s opening practice.
The win virtually clinched a playoff berth for Hamlin, further crowding the growing postseason field. Twelve drivers have won regular-season races, with 11 playoff spots sewn up (Joey Logano’s win at Richmond was later encumbered by a technical infraction).
“We get in the playoffs, we get some playoff bonus points and we’re ready to go now,” Hamlin said, “so we’ve got to … we’ve still got a lot of work to do. I feel like we need a little bit more speed out of our cars to be competitive week in, week out, but honestly this is a great place to start.”
Larson started last in the 39-car field and rallied to a second-place finish. He was demoted on the starting grid when an unapproved part was found on his Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet, disallowing an apparent pole-winning lap.
Larson charged to within close sight of Hamlin’s back bumper but was unable to contest the lead in the late laps. He finished as the runner-up for the second straight week and the seventh time this season.
“Finished second, but another hard‑fought race,” Larson said. “You know, this is the third time we’ve had to start last and drove up to second. I wish we could have been a spot better again, but really proud of my team and proud of the cars that they’re bringing for me to drive each and every week.”
Martin Truex Jr. led a race-high 137 laps from the Coors Light Pole, but was shuffled back to a third-place finish. He avoided major trouble when a right-front tire went flat on his Furniture Row Racing No. 78 Toyota by quickly pitting on Lap 219, on the early end of the pit window.
“We still had a shot, but on the last restart we got the inside lane there, restarted third,” Truex said. “It wasn’t the place to be, obviously.”
Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five in the 19th of 36 points-paying races for the series this season.
Kyle Busch led twice for 95 laps and prevailed in Stage 2, but was dropped back in the running order by speeding penalties on each of his last two pit stops — on Lap 237 and 262. He drove back to a 12th-place finish in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota.
Aric Almirola finished 24th — last car on the lead lap — in his first event since breaking his back in a May 13 crash at Kansas Speedway.
The race was briefly red-flagged during the first stage intermission for parts of the track surface breaking up in Turns 3 and 4.
The cars of two drivers who finished in the top 10 were each found with one unsecured lug nut in a post-race check:
- Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 Toyota of sixth-place Daniel Suarez
- Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Ford of eighth-place Kurt Busch
The series’ next race is scheduled July 23 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET, NBC, IMS, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).