Hamlin's gamble nets first win this season

Monday, July 2, 2007
NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin cheers after winning the LENOX Industrial Tools 300 auto race at New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon, N.H., Sunday, July 1, 2007.(AP Photo/Jim Cole)

LOUDON, N.H. -- A two-tire gamble for Denny Hamlin paid off with his first NASCAR Nextel Cup victory of the season Sunday at New Hampshire International Speedway.

Hamlin, last year's top rookie, is second in the season points, but he's been frustrated this season, leading laps and contending without being able to take a checkered flag in the first 16 races.

It appeared he would fall short again this time, with Martin Truex Jr., series points leader Jeff Gordon and Truex's teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., all running ahead of Hamlin late in the race.

But the leaders made their final scheduled pit stops on lap 255 during a caution period and Hamlin was the only one of the quartet to take two fresh tires instead of four. He vaulted from fourth to first and stayed out front to the end of the Lenox Industrial Tools 300.

"It's amazing to finally get a win," Hamlin said after winning for the third time in his Cup career and the first time since last July at Pocono.

Jeff Gordon (24) bumped Denny Hamlin in the final corner during the Lenox Industrial Tools 300 on Sunday at New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon, N.H. (TONY TALBOT ~ Associated Press)

"We were back in sixth and seventh most of the day and the only shot we had was to get track position," said Hamlin, who now has seven top fives and 11 top 10s this season. "You know, two tires worked for us earlier [in the race] and we kind of made a note that anything inside of 120 laps to go we were going to do two."

Gordon got right up on the rear bumper of the leader's Joe Gibbs Racing Chevy on the final turn. Hamlin held on to win by just 0.068-seconds -- less than a car-length.

Asked if he thought he could still catch Hamlin, Gordon said, "We were running Denny down and he was doing a great job at the end. Those last two laps he started watching his mirror and I thought we had a shot at him."

Truex wound up third, followed by Earnhardt, Johnson and Jeff Green, the only other leader who gambled on changing two tires on the final stop. Green jumped from 13th to fourth and stayed with the leaders to the end.

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