Denny Hamlin Wins at Homestead!
Joe Gibbs Racing completed one of the organization’s strongest seasons ever with a win by Denny Hamlin in today’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The victory was the first of 2013 for Hamlin and gave JGR 12 wins this season, which is the most in the organization’s 22 years of racing.
Matt Kenseth, who entered the day in second-place 28 points behind Jimmie Johnson in the Championship standings, started on the pole and led the most laps before capturing a strong second-place finish to his teammate. Kyle Busch also spent the majority of his day racing inside the top ten before taking the checkered flag in seventh.
Kenseth finishes the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship in second place, 19 points behind Jimmie Johnson, while Busch finishes the season a career-best fourth in the standings.
Hamlin started the No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota fifth and battled inside the top ten on the opening green flag run, but would fall back outside the top 15 when the team made the call for two tires on the opening round of pit stops. Hamlin would use the next run to drive his way back toward the top 10. He was running 12th on lap 50. The FedEx crew would give Hamlin several spots on pit road on the next round of stops and he would line up eighth for the restart on lap 73. Hamlin would continue to move his way toward the front of the field and was running second behind Kenseth on lap 100. He was running third when a caution brought the leaders down pit road on lap 155 and a great four-tire stop by the FedEx crew allowed him to restart fourth with all three cars in front of him having changed just two tires. Hamlin would claim the second spot following the restart and claimed the lead from his teammate Kenseth with 100 laps to go. He would hold the top spot until the next caution came out with 78 laps remaining. Hamlin would drive away following the restart and held the position until the next caution with 62 laps to go. He would line up second for the restart with 56 to go after the 29 made the call for just two-tires to gain track position and take the top spot. He would hold the second spot through the next run and came down pit road under caution with 31 laps remaining. The FedEx crew came up big again on pit road to give Hamlin the top spot off pit road for the restart with 29 to go. Hamlin would do the rest from there as he held the spot to the finish bringing home his first victory of the season. The win kept a streak in tact in which Hamlin has won at least one race in every year he has raced in the sport’s top level.
Kenseth qualified the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota on the pole and was able to take the lead from the outset of this afternoon’s race. He would lead 22 of the first 25 laps before a variety of pit strategies shuffled the field a bit on the first round of pit stops leaving him to restart seventh. However the pit strategy employed by crew chief Jason Ratcliff proved to be the right one and with four fresh tires, Kenseth was able to quickly pass all six cars in front of him to regain the lead on lap 32. The Dollar General crew would keep Kenseth at the point through the next round of stops and he would hold off the 48 car on the next restart on lap 73. He would go on to lead 131 laps through the first half of the race before giving way to the 88 car for a few laps. A great two-tire stop by the Dollar General crew on lap 155 would put him back in the lead. Kenseth would lead until finally giving way to his teammate Hamlin with 100 laps remaining. He would drop back to fourth until the next caution with 78 laps remaining as the sun began to drop and the track began to cool. A bottleneck on the restart with 74 to go would force Kenseth to drop back to run 10th. He would climb back to eighth when the next caution came out with 62 remaining. Once again the Dollar General crew answered the call and gained three spots to place Kenseth fifth for the restart with 56 to go. He was running third when another caution came out to bring him down pit road with 31 laps to go. He would restart fourth with 29 laps to go. Kenseth would move into second on the final run and managed to hold off the 88 car over the final dozen laps or so to earn a strong second-place finish.
Busch started the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota in 11th, but was fast from the outset as he drove into the top ten and then used a two-tire stop to gain additional track position on the first round of stops. Busch would settle into the third position on the following run despite having only taken right side tires on the previous stop. He would continue to run in the third position on lap 100 with only his teammates Kenseth and Hamlin ahead of him running first and second respectively. Busch would drop back to run fifth on a long green flag run and lined up to restart third following a two-tire stop on lap 155. He would drop to the fifth position shortly after the restart and was in the sixth position with 100 laps to go. Busch would come down pit road under caution with 77 laps to go for four tires and adjustments. He would get bottled up on the ensuing restart and dropped several positions before settling in to run ninth when the next caution came out with 62 laps remaining. Busch would line up ninth for the restart with 56 laps remaining and would come down pit road under caution with 31 laps remaining. He would restart 10th with 29 laps to go and drove his way to a seventh-place finish which secured his fourth-place position in the final standings.
Hamlin won the race, followed by Kenseth, while Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was third, Martin Truex, Jr. fourth, and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top five. There were eight cautions for a total of 37 laps and 22 lead changes among eight different drivers.
Joe Gibbs Racing appreciates all the support from its partners and fans throughout the 2013 season. Preparations for 2014 are already underway and we look forward to opening the season from Daytona International Speedway in February.