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The buzz around the garage area at New Hampshire Motor Speedway this weekend suggested Sunday’s Lenox Industrial Tools 301 would have the same level of competition of a narrow country road – the only passing to be done would occur on pit road.
While that speculation didn’t turn out to be necessarily true, pit road did play a major part in helping Kasey Kahne reach Victory Lane for his second win of the season and an almost-promised berth into the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Polesitter Denny Hamlin dominated the afternoon, leading 151 laps and seemingly en route to winning in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
However, miscommunication between Hamlin and crew chief Darian Grubb led to the last stop of the afternoon involving four tires instead of a two-tire stop on Lap 235. The miscue cost the No. 11 team, as Hamlin left pit road 13th and had to play catch-up for the rest of the afternoon, resulting in a second-place finish.
After the race, Hamlin noted that his car’s performance made the agony of defeat just a bit more painful.
“They gave me a fast car — there’s days when you’re not as good and you finish second and you’re overjoyed,” Hamlin said in a press conference. “Today, you finish second and you’re disappointed because you’ve got a dominant car. They gave me a new package this time around. We dominated all the practices and it showed in the race what we had. It’s part of it. I would have loved to get win 200 for number 11. That part of it is frustrating that we can’t break through and get that. We’re getting close.”
Meanwhile, Kahne led the final 66 laps after Hamlin’s error. The No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy team became the first one outside the top 10 this season to win two races, thus becoming the current owner of the first wild card spot into the Chase.
Kahne thinks the remaining races before the 10-race playoff could allow his team to shake off even more of the early bad luck.
“I feel like we’ve been pretty tough all year,” Kahne said after the race. “We just haven’t finished them off a lot of the times, but we’ve been there all year long. Hopefully from here on out, we’ll get some more top 10’s and top five’s in a row and from here out we need to stay after it. And it doesn’t get us in the Chase yet, but it definitely helps with a win today and the win in Charlotte. I can’t wait for some of these other tracks coming up.”
Rounding out the top 10 after Kahne and Hamlin were Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle and Ryan Newman.
As for the points standings, Matt Kenseth’s advantage was shaved to 16 points over Earnhardt Jr. Biffle (-40), Johnson (-51) and Hamlin (-79) round out the top five. Kyle Busch (13th, one win) now owns the second wild card spot by nine points over Newman (14th, one win), while Kahne is 66 points behind Keselowski for 10th place in the standings.
Next up for the Sprint Cup Series is a trip to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in two weeks. The Crown Royal presents the Your Hero’s Name Here 400 at the Brickyard presented by BigMachineRecords.com will be a 1 p.m. start on ESPN.