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April 28, 2024

Denny Hamlin holds off Larson, delivers at Dover for third victory of season

Denny Hamlin essentially called his shot this week, saying on his popular weekly podcast that he absolutely expected to win Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Würth 400 at Dover Motor Speedway. And the veteran backed it up — holding off championship leader Kyle Larson by a slight 0.256 seconds to claim his third win of the season and 54th of his career — tying the legend Lee Petty for 12th on the all-time wins list.

Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was scored ahead of Larson when the caution flag flew for a late-race crash on a restart, and he led the final 72 laps. He also got the jump on Larson’s No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on the final restart on Lap 339 of 400, then managed an advantage that was more than two seconds at one point with Larson closing on him.

RELATED: Race results | At-track photos

Larson got as close as two-tenths of a second behind Hamlin as they negotiated traffic on the 1-mile Dover track in the closing laps but was unable to get close enough to attempt a pass.

“You’d better win, if you’re going to open your mouth, that’s for sure,” Hamlin said of his bold prediction.

Hamlin, 43, immediately gave credit to his No. 11 JGR team.

“Just a great team, they just did a great job,” said Hamlin, who led a race-best 136 of the 400 laps.

“All the guys on the wall right here, they made it happen,” he said motioning to his cheering team on pit wall. “Thank you to them and to [crew chief] Chris Gabehart. The whole team just gave me a great car. I think the key moment, really, was Kyle did an excellent job executing during the green-flag pit cycle and then we were able to get the lead there on that restart, then got the caution that allowed us to control the restart. That was really the key moment for us and certainly feels good winning here at Dover.”

Denny Hamlin drives at Dover
Alejandro Alvarez |

Larson was disappointed standing next to his car after the race and explained that contact between his car and the No. 19 Toyota of Martin Truex Jr. on a late-race restart hurt his chances of being able to get going properly and challenge Hamlin.

“I knew when I got within three car-lengths, he was going to start moving around,” said Larson, who led 39 laps and won Stage 2. “I couldn’t really do anything. I was trying all sorts of different angles and speeds, all that. Nothing could generate enough speed to get close enough, I guess, to do anything. That was a bummer.

“A great day for our Chevy team. Started 21st, drove up to sixth in the first stage or fifth. Got a stage win. Another stage win sounds good. Good points day. We would have loved to get a win.”

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It was actually Hamlin’s JGR teammate Truex — last year’s Dover winner — who looked strongest in the field early on. He led 69 laps and won the opening stage, only to lose ground on a slow pit stop mid-race. His Toyota suffered some front-end damage from the restart incident that Larson referred to, but Truex held ground all day to finish third. He remains in second place in the championship standings, 15 points behind Larson.

“Feel like we let one get away today,” Truex said. “Had a really strong Bass Pro Camry. You can’t lose control of these races mid-stage like that. The track changes and you get behind. Man, just stinks. Overall, a good day, just keep working on it.”

Dover polesitter Kyle Busch finished fourth in the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, and Hendrick’s Chase Elliott was fifth.

Stewart-Haas Racing’s Noah Gragson — coming off his best career-best finish (third) last week at Talladega — finished sixth, his fourth top 10 of the year. Reigning champion, Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney was seventh, followed by Hendrick’s Alex Bowman, Kaulig Racing’s Daniel Hemric and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Ty Gibbs. It marked the second consecutive top 10 for Hemric, equaling his best result of the year.

It was a rough outing for the series’ other three-race winner this season, Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron. The perennial race favorite was involved in a three-car accident with 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace and JGR’s Christopher Bell with 71 laps remaining. It marked the first DNF for Byron this season and the second consecutive DNF for both Wallace and Bell. Byron had an issue during a pit stop that left him mid-pack and that’s exactly where the incident happened.

“Just sucks,” Byron told the Performance Racing Network. “We had a good car early, but once we got in traffic, we were terrible.”

Corey Heim finished 25th in his NASCAR Cup Series debut. The 21-year-old Craftsman Truck Series regular substituted for the injured Erik Jones in the Legacy Motor Club No. 43 Toyota. His team co-owner, seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, finished 28th in his third start of the season.

The Cup Series’ next race is the AdventHealth 400, scheduled next Sunday, May 5 (3 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Kansas Speedway. Hamlin is the defending winner.

Contributing: Staff reports

NOTE: Post-race inspection was completed in the Cup Series garage at Dover Motor Speedway without issue, confirming Hamlin as the race winner. Competition officials will take the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Chase Elliott and the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Martin Truex Jr. back to the NASCAR Research & Development Center in Concord, North Carolina, for teardown.