NASCAR: Overton’s 301

Source: Associated Press

Joe Gibbs Racing’s winless streak came to an end at New Hampshire Motor Speedway as Denny Hamlin came out on top at the Overton’s 301. The win virtually guarantees him a spot in the fast-approaching playoffs.

Hamlin passed teammate Matt Kenseth on the final restart. Kenseth opted to take two tyres on the last stop but fell short. Kyle Larson closed at a furious pace yet ran out of time and was unable to apply enough pressure to steal the lead.

In a race that was largely dictated by track position, the #11 grabbed it when it mattered most to run to the chequered flag.

Hamlin and his team got off to a miserable start in Friday’s practice when he spun into a wall and caused major damage to his FedEx Camry. The accident forced the team to a backup car prior to qualifying.

Undeterred, they prepped themselves for an eighth-place qualifying effort and carried speed throughout practice sessions on Saturday.

Larson may have been the one standing in Victory Lane if not for his lap in the final round of qualifying being disqualified. NASCAR cited an unapproved part as the reason for the time being disallowed, forcing him to start from the rear of the field.

He ran to the front quickly but ultimately fell short as he registered his seventh runner-up finish of the season.

To no one’s surprise, Martin Truex Jr. had the best car after starting out front.  It looked to be another dominant day as he earned the Stage 1 victory for his 14th stage win of the season. Pit strategy by other teams shuffled him back for Stage 2 but he would rebound.

However, a tyre issue threw him off sequence and forced him to pit early during Stage 3. The #78 team would race back to a finish of third but would be denied a win in what was likely the best car of the day. Truex led a race-high 137 laps but couldn’t find the position needed to win back-to-back races.

Matt Kenseth was competitive and held the lead on the final restart. Unlike other drivers, he and his team opted for a two tyre stop that ultimately fell short compared to most other cars that took four.

Regardless, it was a strong finish in fourth place for a driver who announced last week that he was being forced out of his ride at the end of the season. The top five was rounded out by a quietly strong run by Kevin Harvick.

Kyle Busch pitted prior to the start of Stage 1 and found the position needed to win Stage 2. His 95 laps out front were second only to Truex. The #18 car was fast but speeding penalties ultimately derailed his efforts.

He served pass-through penalties on the two final stops for speeding on pit road. Frustrations grew for the younger of the Busch brothers. His season has had an equal mix of fast cars and awful luck.

The outspoken driver was subdued after the race yet seemed optimistic. A trip to Indianapolis Motor Speedway next week for the Brickyard 400 may be the cure for his disappointing season. He dominated last year’s race and should have an advantage next week.

Hamlin’s win snapped a winless streak of 28 races, with his last coming at Richmond International Raceway before the 2016 season’s playoffs. It was his third career victory at New Hampshire where he’s been able to find a great deal of success.

With his team improving in recent weeks, the #11 found just what it needed as the regular season nears its finish.