Denny Hamlin successfully navigated the twists and turns of Watkins Glen International to earn the checkered flag Sunday in the Cheez-It 355 in Watkins Glen, New York.
It's the first road course win of Hamlin's career and his second victory of the season. Joey Logano came in second place, a little over two seconds behind Hamlin:
|Cheez-It 355 Results—Top-10 Finishers|
|7||Martin Truex Jr.||6.388||1|
Hamlin moved into fourth place after Sunday:
|Chase for the Sprint Cup Standings|
|10||Martin Truex Jr.||1||611|
The first half of the race largely went off without a hitch, with just two cautions in the opening 50 laps. That wasn't the case in the final stages. Fox Sports: NASCAR lamented the number of cautions late in the race, which took away from some of the drama:
FOX SPORTS: NASCAR @NASCARONFOX
"And we are BACK under ... never mind." #NASCAR @WGI https://t.co/0KWFkgk2FI https://t.co/3AAmkPCgMk2016-8-7 21:24:19
Hamlin succeeded in avoiding any critical mistakes following the numerous restarts. Both Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski drove themselves out of the race on Lap 83 when they blew through the first turn. They went with an aggressive approach to overtake Hamlin, and the strategy backfired. NASCAR provided a replay of the action:
3-wide... @dennyhamlin to the point! #NASCARonUSA https://t.co/e8DAUo7Z0r2016-8-7 21:22:45
Keselowski did his best to make up the ground between he and Hamlin, but the gap was too great to close in the space of four laps on green.
Martin Truex Jr. was neck and neck with Hamlin in the final few laps, but his fortunes changed radically on the final turn of Lap 90. Keselowski got into the back of the No. 78 car, causing it to spin out. Truex recovered but finished in seventh place.
Truex didn't hesitate to make his feelings clear after the race, gently bumping into the side of the No. 2 car and waving his arm at Keselowski out his driver side window. According to Jayski, though, Truex and Keselowski quickly worked out their differences:
Keselowski went up to Truex Jr. and apologized, Truex Jr. said "I know that", both handled it well2016-8-7 21:57:22
Truex's crash was the biggest talking point on the final lap, but it shouldn't take away from Hamlin's victory. He put on a great display of defensive driving to constantly cut down the angles for Truex at every opportunity.
Watkins Glen presented numerous potential problem spots for Hamlin that could've knocked him from the top spot. Instead, he found the right combination of speed and finesse to handle the track's tricky turns and still hold off the rest of the field.
USA Today's Jeff Gluck noted how the win will be extra sweet for Hamlin:
Jeff Gluck @jeff_gluck
At Sonoma media lunch Hamlin talked about the lack of a road course win being a hole in his career resume and how bad he wanted to win one.2016-8-7 21:47:31
Hamlin might have enjoyed his victory a little too much. He pushed his car so hard during his victory lap that it couldn't actually get to Victory Lane. Instead, Hamlin was left to walk to the winner's circle. NASCAR on NBCSN shared a look at the anticlimactic celebration:
NASCAR on NBC @NASCARonNBC
The winning car couldn't make it to Victory Lane yet, but @dennyhamlin has arrived! #CheezIt355 https://t.co/arGAlu07r22016-8-7 22:01:35
While he didn't factor much in the final outcome, Austin Dillon's wreck on Lap 53 could have consequences for the Chase.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. lost control in the carousel turn and hit the inside wall head-on. Dillon, Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle all got dragged into the aftermath and suffered some level of damage to their cars. NASCAR provided a brief replay of the crash:
Here's another look at why we're under red. #NASCARonUSA https://t.co/34CZsbU0Ya2016-8-7 20:14:26
NASCAR on NBCSN shared a photo of Dillon's crew looking at the No. 3 car:
NASCAR on NBC @NASCARonNBC
The No. 3 @RCRracing crew assesses the damage to @austindillon3's car in the garage. #CheezIt355 https://t.co/bjY77Dkfb02016-8-7 20:24:36
Entering Sunday, Dillon sat 12th in the Chase standings, and he fell to 14th as a result of the Cheez-It 355. Assuming Chris Buescher moves into the top 16—he needs to place 30th or better in points—Kyle Larson would be the first driver on the outside looking in.
The gap between Dillon and Larson closed from 41 points to 39 points, and the damage would've been a lot worse had Larson not crashed on the final lap.
The Chase cutoff is rapidly approaching. Only four races remain before the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 on Sept. 18, which ushers in the beginning of the round of 16. Those drivers still searching for their first win are running out of time to guarantee themselves a top-16 place.
The Sprint Cup series will take a week off before the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Aug. 20. Logano enters as the defending champion, while Carl Edwards was victorious in this year's first race at Bristol, the Food City 500 back in April.
Hamlin acknowledged he relied on a little luck to come out in first place, per FoxSports.com's Tom Jensen:
Really, I didn't do anything special. It was just the front two cars, the 2 [Keselowski] and the 18 [Busch] just overshot the corner in that one restart and gave us an opportunity. And, then it was just about hitting my marks and making sure that I didn't give those guys a chance like I gave Tony [Stewart] a chance at Sonoma.
Keselowski owned up to his role in the wreck that saw Truex fall out of second place, per USA Today's Brant James: "Obviously, it's my fault. I wanted to be outside and make a crossover and see if I could get both [Hamlin and Truex]. I didn't think he'd come back up (the track). He got the bad end of it."
"He said it was his fault; I said 'I knew that.' Simple as that," Truex said. "It's just hard racing. I wanted him to know I wasn't happy after the race. I thought I had a run on [Hamlin], but I got spun around."