Hamlin drives to 6th victory of season at Dover

Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Office Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Drydene 311 (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Denny Hamlin earned his sixth NASCAR Cup Series (NCS) victory of the season in the Drydene 311 at Dover International Speedway on Saturday afternoon. Martin Truex Jr. (second) and Kyle Busch (third) joined Hamlin in the top-three to give Toyota their first top-three sweep and 10th in Toyota’s history. It is the seventh NCS victory for Toyota this season and 150th NCS win in Toyota’s history.

At a track he considers one of his worst, based on past performance, Hamlin made up for a poor restart on Lap 193 of 311, gradually running down Truex, who was stuck behind the lapped car of Aric Almirola during the closing run.

“I’ve been running down the leaders the past few weeks, but I haven’t been able to get there,” said Hamlin, who won for the sixth time this season, tying Kevin Harvick for the NASCAR Cup Series lead. “We didn’t control that restart there, and we just had to battle back.

“We had to go back and get it, and I was able to work the top line there a little bit to get some momentum. Our car was just a little bit better at moving around, different lines.”

The victory in the first leg of a Saturday/Sunday Cup doubleheader was Hamlin’s first in 29 starts at the Monster Mile and the 43rd of his career, 19th most all-time and one win behind NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott.

“This Camry was really fast today,” Hamlin acknowledged. “It was unbelievable how good it was. The pit crew did an amazing job. … We just have unbelievable cars right now. It just seems like we’re coming to the race track prepared.

“I’m putting the work in, and we’re getting results because of it. … I can’t complain about anything right now. It just seems like we’ve got things going. You know, I’ve got faith. When it comes down to it on that last run, when (crew chief Chris Gabehart) says, ‘Go get it,’ I just go get it.”

Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Office Toyota, and Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 SiriusXM Toyota, lead the field  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Hamlin won the first and second stages, but Truex took the lead off pit road on Lap 188 under caution for the second stage break. After a cycle of green-flag pit stops that started on Lap 252, Truex regained the top spot on Lap 280 and held it until Hamlin passed him on Lap 303.

The driver of the No. 19 Toyota caught Almirola during the closing 119-lap green-flag run but couldn’t pass him. Truex grew frustrated as he chased Almirola’s No. 10 Ford.

“I think if the 10 car just wasn’t pinning it on the bottom in front of me, I’d have been fine,” said Truex, who finished 1.179 seconds behind Hamlin and notched the runner-up result after running third in the previous five Cup races. “Every time I tried to move up and get some air on my car, he’d just slide up in front of me like an idiot. He’s the reason we lost the lead, but in the end, we weren’t good enough.

“I thought the 11 (Hamlin) was better than us all day long. We got the lead there in the pits and were able to use clean air to our advantage. I was never happy with the car all day long. The balance was all over the place. It was firing off tight and getting really loose on long runs. At the end, there was nothing I could do. I was just out of control sideways.”

Kyle Busch ran third, as Joe Gibbs Racing swept the podium positions. Kevin Harvick was fourth and pole-sitter Chase Elliott fifth. Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. completed the top 10.

“We had a decent day in, nothing to write home about but not bad,” said Penske Ford driver Keselowski. “We ran solidly in the top-10 all day with our WURTH Ford Mustang. I had a really good restart there in the first stage that got us third and it was kind of okay from there. We took a little shot at it running long in Stage 2 hoping for a yellow and didn’t get it but that’s part of the deal. We did the best we could to get what we had out of our day.”

“We had a top-10 day with the Shell-Pennzoil Ford Mustang,” said Logano. “The pit crew did a great job maintaining or gaining positions on pit road. Track position was pretty important. We fought a little too free at times and lost a little center turn when we adjusted on that. The good news is that we’ve got another race tomorrow and we can adjust on the car tonight and hopefully find a little more speed to battle in the top-five and for a win.”

With a problem-free race at arguably his best track, Johnson, an 11-time Dover winner, vaulted past Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron into the final Playoff-eligible position. With the series returning to Dover for a 4 p.m. start on Sunday, Johnson has a three-point edge over Byron for the final provisional berth in the postseason.

Byron fought an ill-handling car, fell of the lead lap midway through the second stage and finished 28th, dropping a net 28 points to his seven-time champion teammate.

The Cup Series’ next race, also called the Drydene 311, is scheduled Sunday (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) right back at Dover.

Notes: Post-race inspection yielded no major issues in the Cup Series garage. Two cars were found with one unsecured lug nut each — the No. 11 Toyota of race winner Hamlin and the No. 3 Chevrolet of Austin Dillon. … Dillon finished one lap down in 15th place in his return after a one-race absence because of a positive COVID-19 test. … Stenhouse’s top-10 finish was his first since a runner-up effort June 22 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Top-3 Quotes

DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing

Finishing Position: 1st

What was it like to find the line to beat your teammates this afternoon?

“I’ve been running down the leaders these last few weeks, but I haven’t been able to get there. We just didn’t control that restart there, and we just had to battle back. We had to go back and get it. I was able to work the top line there a little to get the momentum. It looked like our car was just a little bit better at moving around to different lines. Proud of this whole FedEx Office team. This Camry was fast today. It was just unbelievable how good it was. The pit crew did an amazing job. Have to thank all the partners – Toyota, Coca-Cola, the Jordan Brand, FedEx and all the employees, I appreciate them. Win 43, this is pretty awesome.”

What does it mean to finally win at Dover after 29 starts?

“People always ask what your least favorite track is and I say Dover just because I’m not that good. I love the track; I just haven’t been very good here. We just have unbelievable cars right now. It seems like we’re coming to the race track prepared. I’m putting the work in, and we’re getting results out of it.”

What are you doing to stay on top of your game?

“Just working hard. Working as hard as I ever have. I can’t complain about anything right now. It seems like we just have things going. I have faith. I have faith when it comes down to it. On that last run, when he (Chris Gabehart, crew chief) says, ‘Go get it,’ I just go get it.”

What is it like when you’re running second and suddenly you’re able to track down the leader?

“I just wanted to go everywhere he’s (Martin Truex Jr.) not, that’s the biggest thing. Our car was able to move around. We were able to make some moves right there on the high side of three and four. That really got us some good momentum going. We just really did a good job of adjusting on the car throughout the day. Our car was not very far off at any point, but we just lost track position there and glad I was able to get it back.”

How much did the racetrack change as the race progressed?

“A little bit. The track definitely changed. It rubbered up quite a bit. The biggest change was from after a yellow flag to 10 or 20 laps in. The track stayed pretty consistent there. I thought I had a loose wheel going, but it seemed like everything was fine. Just grinding our way through it. We were able to move around traffic and we were able to get around them quickly and that allowed us to get to Martin (Truex Jr.).”

What does it mean to win at Dover for the first time?

“It feels good. These tracks are really hard to win at. This has been a difficult track for me throughout the course of my career, but it’s not because I dislike the track, I’ve just never had the technique that’s been very good here. It really rewards you charging the corners and that’s not really my style of driving. I adapt and this is the results we get.”

How do you feel you protected the car for tomorrow’s race?

“We have to take care of it for sure. He (Chris Gabehart, crew chief) told me I have to take care of it, so we can win tomorrow. We’ll see, we’ll make some adjustments and there’s no doubt this car will be better tomorrow than it was today.”

MARTIN TRUEX JR., No. 19 SiriusXM Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing

Finishing Position: 2nd

What more did you need to hold off Denny Hamlin in the closing laps?

“Really, I think of the 10 (Aric Almirola) car just wasn’t pinning me on the bottom and running me up, it would have been fine. Every time I tried to move up and get some air on my car, he would just slide up in front of me like an idiot. He’s the reason we lost the lead, but at the end we just weren’t good enough. I thought the 11 (Denny Hamlin) was better than us all day long. We got the lead there in the pits and was able to use clean air to our advantage. I was never happy with the car all day long. The SiriusXM Camry was fast, but the balance was all over the place. It was firing off tight and getting loose on long runs. At the end, just nothing I could do. It was out of control, sideways.”

How do you fix the car for tomorrow’s race?

“I know we can definitely make it better. I hate to say we can’t. It was pretty far off from what all I hear. We’ll keep working on it, but overall a solid day again.”

KYLE BUSCH, No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing

Finishing Position: 3rd

How was the race for you overall today and are you pleased with the third-place result?

“Top-three – the Interstate Batteries Camry was strong there. I was following (Martin) Truex Jr. there for a little while on that last restart and we kept fading. Kept fading loose and then we came in for our final pit stop and the damn car went four numbers tight. Just crazy. The flip-flop of balance that we had, it was so bad. I don’t think we changed a whole lot. I have to get with Adam (Stevens, crew chief) on that, but overall, we got really good there the previous time we put tires on under green and I was driving through a few people and getting to the front. I was optimistic about putting tires on it and going, but then it just went stupid tight. I don’t know. Thanks to Interstate Batteries, M&M’s – it’s good to get a solid top-three. Hopefully, we can make a few changes tonight. We were close. We had some speed so try to work on it.”

What happened on the last run?

“I don’t know what happened, we have to figure that out. We had a pretty fast Interstate Batteries Camry and we made it all the way up front. Did a good job there. The time that we put tires on under green, the car was really fast, really good. I was optimistic keeping up with (Martin) Truex that once we got tires on it, I could maybe keep up or be faster and it just was so tight at the end. It went from being four or five numbers loose to four or five numbers tight. That’s a 10 number swing in just putting tires on. Crazy how that happens. Come home with a good, solid third-place. Got two good teammates here with a notebook that they’ve got to lean on and hopefully we can work on some things tonight and get ourselves better and come out here and win tomorrow.”

How tough is this race track when your car is as difficult to balance as your car was?

“You don’t know what to adjust. The beginning of the race, we were loose. We tightened it up and we were plowing tight the next run. Then we freed it up a little bit and it was loose the next run. We put tires on it under green and it was fine. Every single run it was back-and-forth, it was crazy. There was just no keeping up with it there. Try to do what you can and the best you can with what you’ve got and that’s all we had.”

Results Race 1

Pos Str No. Driver Team Laps Status Led
1 2 11 Denny Hamlin FedEx Office Toyota 311 Running 115
2 3 19 Martin Truex Jr. SiriusXM Toyota 311 Running 88
3 22 18 Kyle Busch Interstate Batteries Toyota 311 Running 3
4 10 4 Kevin Harvick Mobil 1 Ford 311 Running 0
5 1 9 Chase Elliott Mountain Dew/Team Rubicon Chevrolet 311 Running 27
6 4 14 Clint Bowyer Haas Automation Ford 311 Running 0
7 6 48 Jimmie Johnson Ally Chevrolet 311 Running 0
8 5 22 Joey Logano Shell Pennzoil Ford 311 Running 0
9 7 2 Brad Keselowski Wurth Ford 311 Running 9
10 19 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Kroger Chevrolet 311 Running 1
11 21 41 Cole Custer # HaasTooling.com/Jacom Co Ford 311 Running 0
12 13 20 Erik Jones DEWALT Atomic Toyota 311 Running 0
13 16 8 Tyler Reddick # Cat App Chevrolet 310 Running 0
14 20 12 Ryan Blaney Advance Auto Parts Ford 310 Running 0
15 32 3 Austin Dillon Dow/Behr Ultra Scuff Defense Chevrolet 310 Running 49
16 12 17 Chris Buescher SunnyD Ford 310 Running 0
17 17 10 Aric Almirola Smithfield Hometown Original Ford 309 Running 0
18 25 13 Ty Dillon GEICO Chevrolet 309 Running 0
19 23 6 Ryan Newman Guaranteed Rate Ford 309 Running 0
20 14 21 Matt DiBenedetto Menards/Monster Energy Ford 309 Running 17
21 11 88 Alex Bowman Acronis Chevrolet 309 Running 0
22 18 95 Christopher Bell # Rheem Toyota 309 Running 0
23 26 42 Matt Kenseth Clover Chevrolet 309 Running 1
24 31 38 John Hunter Nemechek # ACME Ford 309 Running 0
25 27 37 Ryan Preece Scott Brand Chevrolet 309 Running 0
26 15 34 Michael McDowell Digital Ally Shield Cleansers Ford 308 Running 0
27 24 43 Bubba Wallace Door Dash Chevrolet 308 Running 0
28 8 24 William Byron Axalta Chevrolet 308 Running 1
29 29 32 Corey LaJoie Drydene Ford 308 Running 0
30 28 96 * Daniel Suarez CommScope Toyota 306 Running 0
31 34 27 JJ Yeley(i) Thriv5 Ford 302 Running 0
32 37 53 Josh Bilicki(i) Chevrolet 299 Running 0
33 35 0 Quin Houff # Eagle Rock Wealth Chevrolet 298 Running 0
34 33 66 * Timmy Hill(i) Toyota 298 Running 0
35 38 51 Joey Gase(i) Ford 293 Running 0
36 30 15 Brennan Poole # RememberEveryoneDeployed. Today Chevrolet 286 Rear End 0
37 39 7 * Garrett Smithley(i) Chevrolet 241 Battery 0
38 40 78 * BJ McLeod(i) Chevrolet 166 Handling 0
39 36 77 Reed Sorenson Spire Motorsports Chevrolet 83 Handling 0
40 9 1 Kurt Busch GEARWRENCH Chevrolet 6 Accident 0


Sunday’s Race 2 Lineup

Note: starting line-up set by inverting the top-20 finishers from Saturday’s race

St Driver Car # Team
1 Matt DiBenedetto 21 Wood Brothers Racing
2 Ryan Newman 6 Roush Fenway Racing
3 Ty Dillon 13 Germain Racing
4 Aric Almirola 10 Stewart-Haas Racing
5 Chris Buescher 17 Roush Fenway Racing
6 Austin Dillon 3 Richard Childress Racing
7 Ryan Blaney 12 Team Penske
8 Tyler Reddick 8 Richard Childress Racing
9 Erik Jones 20 Joe Gibbs Racing
10 Cole Custer 41 Stewart-Haas Racing
11 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing
12 Brad Keselowski 2 Team Penske
13 Joey Logano 22 Team Penske
14 Jimmie Johnson 48 Hendrick Motorsports
15 Clint Bowyer 14 Stewart-Haas Racing
16 Chase Elliott 9 Hendrick Motorsports
17 Kevin Harvick 4 Stewart-Haas Racing
18 Kyle Busch 18 Joe Gibbs Racing
19 Martin Truex Jr. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing
20 Denny Hamlin 11 Joe Gibbs Racing
21 Alex Bowman 88 Hendrick Motorsports
22 Matt Kenseth 42 Chip Ganassi Racing
23 William Byron 24 Hendrick Motorsports
24 Christopher Bell 95 Leavine Family Racing
25 Michael McDowell 34 Front Row Motorsports
26 Bubba Wallace 43 Richard Petty Motorsports
27 John Hunter Nemechek 38 Front Row Motorsports
28 Kurt Busch 1 Chip Ganassi Racing
29 Ryan Preece 37 JTG Daugherty Racing
30 Corey LaJoie 32 Go Fas Racing
31 Daniel Suarez 96 Gaunt Brothers Racing
32 JJ Yeley 27 Rick Ware Racing
33 Josh Bilicki 53 Rick Ware Racing
34 Brennan Poole 15 Premium Motorsports
35 Quin Houff 00 StarCom Racing
36 Timmy Hill 66 Motorsports Business Management
37 Reed Sorenson 77 Spire Motorsports
38 Joey Gase 51 Petty Ware Racing
39 Garrett Smithley 7 Tommy Baldwin Racing
40 BJ McLeod 78 BJ McLeod Motorsports