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Hamlin Wins Texas!

20 April 2010

The rain-delayed Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway left Hamlin singing "Monday, Monday, so good to me."

Still recovering from March 31 surgery to repair the ACL in his left knee, Hamlin took advantage of a wild late-race wreck that eliminated several of the fastest cars—including the dominant Chevrolet of Jeff Gordon—and held off fast-closing Jimmie Johnson to win his second race of the season and the 10th of his career.

Contrary to the sentiment of another popular song, rainy days and Mondays seem to buoy the spirits of Hamlin, who has won three of the past four NASCAR Sprint Cup races run on Monday.

Hamlin surged into the lead past Jeff Burton after a restart on Lap 323 of 334 at the 1.5-mile track. Johnson restarted fifth and dropped back in traffic before making a stirring charge in the final six laps.

With the surgery behind him, Hamlin vaulted from 18th to 11th in the Cup standings and reaffirmed his status as a contender for the series title.

"This is not the type of racetrack people characterize us being strong at," said Hamlin, who completed 376 laps at Phoenix last week 10 days after the ACL operation. "They always say we're a short-track team. When we won Homestead last year, it was a sign of things to come.

"I know we've got some good racecars in our stable. We're just going to keep getting better and keep working toward the Chase, and hopefully by the time we get there, we'll peak."

The victory was a bonus, considering that Hamlin opted to sacrifice his performance in the spring to get ready for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, the 10-race playoff that starts in September at New Hampshire.

"I did it for the long run," Hamlin said of the surgery. "I did it for the Chase. I did it for the championship. … I'm still not 100 percent by any means. I feel like I'm 60 (percent) at best. We're still a month away from getting back where we were."

Kyle Busch, Hamlin's teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, finished third, followed by Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne, who announced on Wednesday he had signed long-term contract with Hendrick Motorsports and will leave Richard Petty Motorsports at the end of the season.

Mark Martin, Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr. and Greg Biffle completed the top 10.

Johnson, who trailed Hamlin to the finish line by .152 seconds, thought a 20- minute, 28-second red-flag period for a nine-car wreck on Lap 318 might have ruined his chances.

"I think we sat too long and the front tire pressures dropped," said Johnson, who stretched his lead in the standings to 108 points over 20th-place finisher Matt Kenseth. "I lost a few spots. I almost hit the wall down in (Turns) 1 and 2, trying to work the top. Once those front tire pressures came in and the splitter got off the ground, I started coming—but it was like a lap too late."

Johnson and Gordon raced more like rivals than Hendrick Motorsports teammates. When Gordon, who led a race-high 124 laps, passed Johnson for second place off Turn 4 on Lap 240, contact between their Chevrolets left a tire mark on the right side of Gordon's No. 24.

On a restart on Lap 317 following the sixth caution, however, Gordon's day ended after contact from polesitter Tony Stewart's Chevy turned Gordon into the wall, triggering a melee that also eliminated the cars of Jamie McMurray, Carl Edwards, Juan Pablo Montoya, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer.

"I came off of (Turn) 4 there and bounced off of Jeff's right rear," Stewart said. "It was just a pendulum, and I lost it and got into his right rear and then I got us to where neither one of us could get away from it.

"Somebody (Earnhardt) put me three-wide in Turns 1 and 2, and that got me up to where I got a lot of crap on my tires, and that started it. It was my fault. Feel bad about it, about doing something stupid like that. I didn't plan on getting loose, but it is 100 percent my fault."

Notes: The race featured a record-tying 29 lead changes (among 12 drivers). … Hamlin, Martin and Kurt Busch all cracked the top 12 in the standings. … Track officials estimated the crowd at 90,000. The Nationwide Series race, rain-delayed from Saturday, began about an hour after the Cup race.



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