After a weekend of rain, the sky finally cleared for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series to take the green flag for the Overton’s 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday.
Stage One played out with an immediate penalty to 7-time champion Jimmy Johnson in the #48 Loew’s Chevrolet when he jumped the start alongside Pole Sitter Martin Truex Jr. Plagued with a Pass Through to serve the penalty, Johnson instantly went a lap down.
A Competition Caution at Lap 35 flew in order to check the tires after PJ1 TrackBite was added to the bottom and middle of the race track. It was applied to the track several times throughout the weekend to enhance the grip of the racetrack and provide more side-by-side racing. During the caution, there was a minor collision between Denny Hamlin and Eric Jones on Pit Road. After the restart, Jones’ right front tire began to rub with the wheel-well and eventually cut the tire. This caused Jones to lose control and slam the SAFER barrier. Jones’ day ended after running only 41 laps. With only 8 laps remaining in the first stage, Cole Witt‘s engine expired which caused the third caution. Race leader, Martin Truex Jr, opted to stay out on old tires with 10 other drivers and collected his 14th stage victory of the season.
Between Stage 1 and 2, the race was red flagged for a pothole in the track. A maintenance crew took action right away and repaired the hole in five and a half minutes. There was no problem with the track after the repair was made. The race restarted with Kyle Busch in the lead after a quick tire change that beat Truex Jr. off of pit road. When the green flag waved, Busch sailed past Truex and led for all 75 laps in the stage en route to the stage win. There was only one caution in the stage for Austin Dillon and Ricky Stenhouse Jr who made contact with Dillon spinning down the front straightaway.
Unfortunately, Busch lost three positions on pit road during the caution between the second and final stages, and two subsequent pit road speeding penalties derailed his winning chances. As the driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Busch rallied from the two infractions to finish in the 12th position.
Truex had a late-race issue, too, with an unscheduled pit stop for a flat right front tire on Lap 218 of 301. Though Truex later regained the lead, he was at a huge tire disadvantage and eventually lost the top spot to Matt Kenseth before Ryan Newman’s spin brought out the final caution flag of the day. With teammates Busch and Kenseth out of his way, as well as team alliance Truex, Denny Hamlin had to complete 33 laps without error.
Kyle Larson started the race from the rear of the field after his qualifying time was disallowed because this car failed post-qualifying inspection. The driver of the No. 42 Target Chevy was able to drive through the pack and ended up second in the closing laps. Although Larson had a clear advantage in speed over Hamlin in the final run, he couldn’t close to the bumper of the No. 11.
Having crossed the finish line just half of a second before Larson, Denny Hamlin scored his first win of 2017. Hamlin also secured a spot in the 10-race postseason playoff, added a 3rd win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and gained his 30th career victory. With an extreme burnout to celebrate the win, Hamlin popped the back tire and shredded the rubber down the front stretch until the car was sitting on nothing but rim.
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