Originally created 06/12/06

Hamlin recovers for win



LONG POND, Pa. - Denny Hamlin made more pit stops than any driver during Sunday's Pocono 500 - and he avoided the radar gun each time.

On a day when NASCAR set up a speed trap at the blustery Pocono Raceway, Hamlin got quick work on pit road - but not too fast - following a spin on the 51st lap that allowed him to rally for an improbable victory.

Despite making eight extra pit stops during the 3-hour, 57-minute race, his Chevrolet was still the fastest in the 43-car race. Even with grass and dirt swirling inside the car, tape flapping off his fender and sheeting metal peeling away, he had a 100-yard cushion on second-place Kurt Busch at the finish line.

"I thought our race was over when we had that flat," Hamlin said. "But man, this car was on a rail. It was awesome. It's easy to do when you have a car that good."

What also helped were speeding penalties handed out to one-time race leaders Brian Vickers, Jeff Burton and Kyle Busch that helped the rookie recover for his first victory in the Nextel Cup Series.

Hamlin led 49 of the first 50 laps until his car blew a left-rear tire coming into the third turn. He made four stops during the caution period while his Joe Gibbs Racing team applied patches and pulled metal away from the tire.

Although he dropped to 40th place, he managed to stay on the lead lap, eventually working his way back to the front by the 133rd lap. He got out front again with 24 laps remaining and stayed there.

"After we got back on the racetrack, it felt unstable," Hamlin said. "It disrupted the car quite a bit. They kept adding little pieces (of patches) with every stop. With every stop, with every piece they added, it made the car feel much better."

Crew chief Mike Ford had more repairs planned until he saw the stopwatch. Even damaged, Hamlin's car was the fastest on the track.

"That wasn't easy by any means," Ford said. "Obviously we had a fast car. We had to pace ourselves (with all the extra stops). We did what we could with the time we had.

"Really, we had more to do than the opportunities we had. When we got back to green, we realized nobody could run with us, so we left the car alone."

Jeff Gordon's hard crash on the 192nd lap prompted a 13-minute red-flag period for repairs and to sweep the track. It also allowed Busch and Tony Stewart a chance to restart just off Hamlin's bumper with five laps to go.

But once Hamlin took the green, he was 30 yards ahead by the time he got to the first turn.

"It was tough to compete with Denny," Busch said. "He was good; he was solid. It was a five-lap sprint. I didn't have much for him."

Said Stewart: "There was no way were going to deal with Denny. The first lap (after the re-start) was the only lap where anything could happen. Unless Denny had a problem, we weren't going to do anything with him."

POINTS STANDINGS

1. Jimmie Johnson 2,145

2. Matt Kenseth 2,097

3. Mark Martin 1,907

4. Tony Stewart 1,888

5. Kasey Kahne 1,866

6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 1,850

7. Jeff Burton 1,758

8. Kevin Harvick 1,715

9. Denny Hamlin 1,682

10. Kyle Busch 1,669