|Hamlin gets second win of season
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Through the first eight races of 2011, Denny
Hamlin’s only top 10 was a seventh-place finish at Las Vegas. He had
four finishes outside the top 20. If it wouldn’t have been for his win
at Michigan in June, he would have missed the Chase.
At Kansas Speedway during Sunday’s STP 400, the eighth race of the 2012
season, Hamlin was a fixture in the top five all day and made his
second trip to victory lane with new crew chief Darian Grubb, passing
Martin Truex Jr. with 31 laps to go after the sun broke through the
“It felt like all day I was behind the 56 and his car looked so
superior to the field,” Hamlin said. “We just needed some kind of
change, whether weather, adjustments or something, to be where he was
at and we kind of got both of them.”
Yeah, it’s way too early to talk about points, but Hamlin and Tony
Stewart are now the only two drivers with two wins this season. Because
just one win was enough to get Hamlin into last year’s Chase via the
wild card, two at this point makes the postseason highly likely.
On Sunday, at least six cars had engine issues, including the No. 24 of
Jeff Gordon, which dropped a cylinder during the race’s final
green-flag run, and pole-sitter AJ Allmendinger, who had engine
problems after leading the race’s first 44 laps. Temperatures hovered
around 60 degrees all day and the race was run under cloud cover until
the final stretch. Teams were also forced to run a different gear
setting than they had in previous Kansas races.
“We lucked out in some ways, I feel like, by finishing 21st,” Gordon
said. “It could have been a lot worse. We struggled today; we missed
the setup, and we were still going to finish seventh or 8th, so I think
that says a lot about our race team.
“But yeah, we obviously had a valve spring I believe, something in the
valve train that broke. They gave us more gear here this time and I
think that took a toll on not only us, but on a lot of guys out there.
I felt like it was turning a lot of RPM. Even though we have a rev
limiter to keep it from going over what we think it needs and it never
did, but still, it caused a problem.”
The most spectacular engine failure of the day was Bobby Labonte, who
blew up under caution while entering pit road.
“It must have broke a rod or piston, or pistons and rods, or whatever,”
Labonte said. We had some terrible vibration there at one time and we
had to pit because something was wrong and then went back out and it
was loose. The car filled up with smoke, so I’m figuring the rear tires
were full of oil, oil from the oil tank, and then the caution comes out
and it blows up on pit road.”
As for Hamlin, it’s still difficult to grasp exactly where he is
competitively. Is he closer to the championship form he showed in 2010
or the inconsistency from last year? The answer, right now, probably
lies somewhere in between.
“I personally am comfortable with myself as a driver,” Hamlin said
after picking up career win No. 19. “I know what my abilities are. ...
I feel like I can race with anyone in this sport.
“It’s just so much about how good your communication with your crew
chief is, how good your cars are, how good your pit crew is. It’s more
of a team sport now than what it’s ever been. It’s not just about the
driver. ... Crew chiefs have won races when they don’t have the best
car, but it’s been a long time since the best driver took a 15th-place
car and won with it based off of what he did inside the car. It’s just
so hard nowadays. The cars are running so fast that it’s a lot of what
happens in the shop that dictates how your weekend goes.”