Hamlin makes good

The Joe Gibbs driver lives up to his prediction and claims his third Pocono victory.

Staff WriterAugust 4, 2009 

  • 1. Denny Hamlin

    2. Juan Pablo Montoya

    3. Clint Bowyer

    4. Sam Hornish Jr.

    5. Kasey Kahne

— Like most of Denny Hamlin's success in the Sprint Cup Series, there are three sides to this story.

Hamlin won the fifth Cup race of his career Monday, holding off Juan Pablo Montoya to take the victory in the rain-delayed Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway and end his 50-race winless streak.

Three of Hamlin's wins have come on the 21/2-mile flat triangle-shaped track in the Pocono Mountains. There is no confirmation that Hamlin may have spent hours as a child playing with the triangle percussion instrument.

Instead, he credited Monday's victory to the familiarity he and his Joe Gibbs Racing team have with the track.

"I think once you win here once, you just get a feel for the car, and you feel what it takes to win," Hamlin said. "When we come close at a lot of other tracks, you see when we go back there, we contend again because you understand what you need to win a race."

Although some wild pit strategies threatened to steal the win from Hamlin, his No. 11 Toyota was clearly the best in the field.

He led 91 of 200 laps, and while many drivers found it hard to pass, he restarted 14th with 20 laps remaining and made a pass of then-leader Clint Bowyer with 10 to go.

"Here, this is what we didn't get to show last week at the Brickyard, what we didn't get to show the first lap here in the summer race in June," Hamlin said.

Hamlin broke a drive shaft last weekend in the early laps at Indianapolis, and in June at Pocono his car's fuel pump broke on the first lap of the race.

"I think our race team has been really good the last couple [of] months," Hamlin said. "I feel like we've been the closest car to Hendrick [Motorsports].

"We've slowly but surely been working on it in the race shop and on pit road."

Besides stopping a winless skid -- his last victory came in March 2008 at Martinsville, Va. -- Hamlin's win Monday was important in two other ways.

On Friday, his grandmother, Thelma Clark, died at age 91 in Tampa, Fla. She had played a large part in the 28-year-old driver's life.

"We definitely had some angels with us today," Hamlin said in Victory Lane as he broke down in tears.

On Friday, during a media question-and-answer session, he opened his comments by matter-of-factly stating he was going to win this race.

The comment drew little attention, most likely because it had been 50 races since he had won and nearly two years since he had swept the Pocono races as a rookie.

"I felt like this weekend I was going to have help in a lot of different places," Hamlin said. "To be honest, after Saturday, I said, 'Man, I put my foot in my mouth,' because our car wasn't very good.

"[I] just felt like I gave Mike [Ford, crew chief] some good information. He just took it and ran with it. When you can do that, you can execute, that's great. But it's still hard to win.

"I said in my mind that I wasn't going to settle for anything less than a win. With every corner I went in, that was 120 percent."

Monday's win also helped bury some seeds of doubt that were beginning to take root in Hamlin.

"I found myself over the last few months starting to think, 'Man, I'm only racing for second when I show up,' " he said. "That's no way to be."

Hamlin admitted some of the doubt came from what he read about his team.

"We can't close. We led how many laps and not got a race win. That's pressure I put on myself. I read too much into it," he said.

"In the big, grand scheme of things, we've been the most solid car that hasn't had a Hendrick label on it. You know, I take a lot of pride in that. We're taking strides forward starting today."

jutter@charlotteobserver.com or 704-358-5118

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