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Kahne wins after Hamlin gets over-tyred

Once all that was done, the status quo at the front was restored and Hamlin was in the lead again, Gordon briefly back in second place ahead of the rest of the Hendrick contingent before once again slipping back behind Kahne and Johnson as he sought to stretch his fuel as far as possible.

"When we got track position we weren't able to maintain it," he admitted after the race. "It was just a disappointing day when you look at what our goals are right now. We've got to be up there battling for wins if we are going to make this Chase and then get those wins. At the beginning I thought we were equally as good as anybody: I don't know, from that second run on it just went downhill."

As the weather started to noticeably deteriorate over the New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Brad Keselowski decided it was time to move up and duly broke up the cosy Hendrick quartet by slipping ahead of first Earnhardt for fifth on lap 181 and then Gordon for fourth on lap 185. Kasey Kahne had similarly got the call to hurry up and was busy closing the gap between himself and race leader Hamlin.

Then on lap 189, proceedings were interrupted by the second debris caution of the afternoon. With reports of drizzle starting to fall on the track, Kyle Busch opted to stay out on track in the faint hope that the race could be heading for a red flag, but most everyone else took to pit lane. Gordon was one of the few to opt for four tyres while most drivers took two, but it only dropped the #24 to ninth off pit road with so many cars now lapped - one of the most recent being Tony Stewart, who had been in a sluggish mood all afternoon but who now took the wave-around under the caution to belatedly get his lap back.

Hamlin resumed in second behind his stop-out team mate, with Kahne, Johnson, Keselowski and Earnhardt lined up in the top six. When the track did go green on lap 197 despite the light rain, Hamlin quickly passed the #18 on its worn tyres and pulled away, leaving Busch to do his best to fend off the advances of Johnson in the #48 as he sought to stretch his fuel far enough to keep him on the one-stop-remaining pit strategy as the rest of the field now that the rain had abated and was no longer an imminent factor.

He made it and pitted on lap 232, but that was the last decent break he got. While he was on pit road, the third caution off the day came out for David Reutimann blowing the #10's engine. Busch also overshot his pit stall which meant his stop was slower than that of Johnson who'd come in at the same time, which meant that he wasn't even in the 'lucky dog' position one lap off the lead and had to rely on the wave-around to get back onto the lead lap as the rest of the field cycled down pit road for their final stops of the afternoon. That left Busch down in 18th place for the restart and pretty much out of the count for a decent finish.

But that wasn't the end of the pit nightmare for Joe Gibbs Racing: Denny Hamlin came down pit road under the caution, and then watched amazed as his #11 car was fitted with four tyres while everyone else went for two. It was the result of a miscommunication between Hamlin and his crew chief Darian Grubb, but it was a costly one: Hamlin would now take the restart from 13th place, his earlier dominating lead now just a fond memory unless he had the raw pace on his accidentally complete set of new tyres to run to the front.

That left Kasey Kahne in charge at the front followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., with Kevin Harvick making his move into third ahead of Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Newman. Bowyer took over second spot right away as the green came out on lap 239 with 62 laps remaining, but he couldn't depose Kahne. Meanwhile, further back something angry was stirring: Hamlin was on the move and coming fast, leaping up into top five again within 20 laps of the race going back to green but still almost five seconds off the leader.

Hamlin kept on coming: with 29 laps remaining he was past Earnhardt for third place six laps later put Bowyer to the sword into turn 3. The gap down the road to Kahne was down to three seconds, but Hamlin was running out of time and laps to pull off the recovery drive of the year. Kahne's pit crew were calmly reassuring their man that Hamlin had a long way to go yet and that Kahne himself shouldn't be pressured into overdriving it and making an error. Sure enough, Kahne was holding his lead steady as the chequered flag approached.

"I was definitely focused on the lapped cars I was going by and how I could clear them quick," said Kahne. "But, I lost a ton of forward drive and I was getting pretty loose and Denny was coming on four. So I was paying attention to where he was, but I felt pretty good about the lead we had."




Related Pictures

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A miscommunication on a late pit stop between Denny Hamlin and crew chief Darian Grubb dropped Hamlin from the lead to 12th. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Kasey Kahne crosses the finish line to win the LENOX Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 14, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, passes Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, to take the lead and win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, leads Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet, Miss Sprint Cup Kim Coon, Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford, and Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, pose for a photo prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 GameStop/Rock Candy Toyota, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 15, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 GameStop/Rock Candy Toyota, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 15, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, celebrates with the trophy in Victory Lane with team owner Dale Earnhardt jr. after winning the series championship during the NASCAR Nationwide Series Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 15, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 GameStop/Rock Candy Toyota, leads a pack of cars during the NASCAR Nationwide Series Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 15, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 GameStop/Rock Candy Toyota, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 15, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #22 Hertz Ford, poses with the Coors Light Pole Award after qualifying for pole position for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 15, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Jeld-Wen/Menards Toyota, and Darrell Wallace Jr., driver of the #54 ToyotaCare Toyota, burn out as Crafton celebrates winning the series championship and Wallace celebrates winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 14, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Jeld-Wen/Menards Toyota, celebrates winning the series championship in Victory Lane with the trophy, NASCAR President Mike Helton and sportscaster Krista Voda during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 14, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Jeld-Wen/Menards Toyota, celebrates winning the series championship in Victory Lane after the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 14, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Jeld-Wen/Menards Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the series championship and placing ninth in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 14, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Darrell Wallace Jr., driver of the #54 ToyotaCare Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 14, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Darrell Wallace Jr., driver of the #54 ToyotaCare Toyota, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 14, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR)

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