LOUDON, N.H. — Seldom has the result of a NASCAR Sprint Cup race seemed as preordained as Denny Hamlins dominant victory was Sunday at the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
After spending the first part of the weekend showing his Toyotas power in practice, Hamlin got the job done when it counted, coming from deep in the pack to lead 193 of 300 laps. Winning for a third time in five races, Hamlin finished 2.675 seconds ahead of runner-up and new points leader Jimmie Johnson.
Johnson took the Chase for the Sprint Cup lead from Brad Keselowski by one point after Keselowski finished sixth. The victory also pushed Hamlin into third place, seven points behind Johnson.
There are all these things that you cant control that can keep you out of Victory Lane, said Hamlin, who gave Joe Gibbs Racing its 100th Cup victory. Thats the most nerve-wracking part for me. I just thought, Lets find a way not to lose this.
As predictable as Hamlins victory might have been he had the fastest car during all three practices it also was an indication of how his team can bounce back from a little adversity.
Hamlin was in contention in the Chases first race last week at Chicagoland but finished 16th when he ran out of gas. Then, during Fridays qualifying at New Hampshire, a tire-pressure miscalculation slowed Hamlin to such an extent that he started 32nd Sunday.
Weve made some mental mistakes, and one of them cost us a really good qualifying effort, said Darian Grubb, Hamlins crew chief. But everybody stepped up.
Hamlin knew he had a fast car for the race, though. His goal was to take the lead by Lap 100; he did it on Lap 94.
I took my time getting through traffic, he said. But no matter how good I was in practice, thats no guarantee about how things are going to go in the race. I was a little nervous about that, because conditions change.
And I wanted to make sure I didnt make any enemies on the way to the front.
The only real chance Johnson or anybody else had was when a caution came out on Lap 274. But Hamlin had an excellent restart and drove away again.
I kept waiting for him to make a mistake, said Johnson. He did a good job. He never slipped.
Said pole-winner Jeff Gordon, who finished third, of Hamlins car: I dont think that thing boggled all day.
The only other drama even it was somewhat manufactured was whether Hamlin could back up a statement he made on his Twitter account after the disappointment at Chicagoland.
We will win at New Hampshire, tweeted Hamlin, who backed off the statement somewhat Friday, saying he only meant he would do the best he could to win. Still, when Hamlin got out of his car after his called shot, he pointed to an imaginary outfield fence and took an imaginary home-run swing.
When you (guarantee a win), you put yourself on an island, Hamlin said. Drivers will drive harder against you to make sure your job is harder.
So I clarified it because there are no guarantees. But barring any (unforeseen) things happening, I had faith we would win.
JGR owner Joe Gibbs, a former Washington Redskins coach, didnt hear about Hamlins guarantee when he made it. Not that he would have been happy about it.
Im glad I didnt hear about (Hamlins guarantee) until later on. Normally, it doesnt work out, Gibbs said.
Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14