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Hamlin delivers with dominant display

Denny Hamlin raised eyebrows by predicting that he'd win at New Hampshire: but that was nothing to the shock everyone had when they saw just how dominant the #11 proved to be.
After running short of fuel and dropping seven positions at the end of the first Chase race in Chicago, and then a fumble with tyre pressures consigning him to 32nd in qualifying for the second event this weekend, you could have understood if Hamlin had been downhearted coming into the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Instead, he rallied the troops by saying in a tweet that he would win the race. It was doubtless a somewhat tongue-in-cheek declaration, but he knew that his #11 car was good here and had firm expectations of working his way back through the field to a decent finish at the end of three hours of racing. And as it turned out, that tweet ended up being one of the most spot-on predications anyone's been able to make so far about the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.

"You don't want to sound too cocky, but I knew what we were capable of - our car was extremely strong and I have a really good knack for this race track," Hamlin said about his pre-race prediction. "If you're going to say something like that, you've got to run extremely well. This team just gave me a great car this weekend and it was just untouchable here."

Despite his lowly qualifying position, Hamlin had scampered up into the top 20 by the end of the first dozen laps of the 1-mile oval, and he cracked the top ten after the pre-scheduled competition caution at the end of lap 40. After that he was positively lackadaisical in taking another twenty laps to get into the top five.

By that point, Hamlin's Joe Gibbs Racing team mate Kyle Busch had taken the lead from Tony Stewart, who had been blocked in pit lane by traffic and lost the lead that he'd won in the opening laps from polesitter Jeff Gordon. In any case, Stewart didn't look anywhere near as strong in this latest stint of the race and he soon fell down the running order as Kasey Kahne and Denny Hamlin got by him.

Kahne and Hamlin continued their charge and passed Gordon to take second and third slots respectively by lap 76, and then Hamlin decided to dispatch Kahne and go after the #18 for the lead, which he did when Busch encountered lapped traffic on lap 91. Once he was in front, Hamlin pulled away from the field pretty smartly and settled into the position that would be his for no fewer than 193 of the remaining 208 laps. No one came close or even threatened his total domination.

What was remarkable at this stage was that of the top 12 cars, all but one of them was a Chase contender. Kyle Busch was the cuckoo in the next and Dale Earnhardt Jr. the absentee as he laboured down in around 20th place in the opening third of the race. The Toyotas of the Joe Gibbs and Michael Waltrip Racing cars looked best suited for New Hampshire, with the Chevrolets of the Hendrick Motorsport squad (and by extension, Tony Stewart) also looking right on it. By contrast, the Fords of Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle looked merely average and the Dodge of Brad Keselowski simply rather lonely.

Hamlin continued to lead after the first round of green flag pit stops just after the 100-lap mark, leading Busch by around three seconds with Kahne and Gordon following close behind. There had been over 80 laps of green flag running by the time that the second caution of the afternoon came out for debris on lap 129.

Most cars took only two tyres at this stage and Hamlin and Busch resumed in the lead now followed by MWR team mates Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr; Tony Stewart was now a lot happier with new tyres and adjustments and slipped back into fifth place. Joey Logano was the top-placed driver to have taken four tyres and he was back in 16th.




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Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Freight Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series SYLVANIA 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 23, 2012 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Freight Toyota, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series SYLVANIA 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 23, 2012 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Pool/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS, holds his daughter, Lydia Sunday, November 22, 2015 before final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Johnson and other Jeff Gordon teammates at Hendrick Motorsports wore tribute hats to honor the retiring Chevy driver prior to the start of the race. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, races to a sixth place finish Sunday, November 22, 2015 in the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Gordon finishes third in the Chase for the Cup Championship. This was Gordon`s last race as a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver. He has made 796 consecutive Cup Series starts, earned 93 wins, and 81 poles - all behind the wheel of Chevrolets. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Defending Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, races to a second place finish, Sunday, November 22, 2015 in the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Harvick finishes as the runner-up in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Defending Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, races to a second place finish, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS finishes in sixth place, and Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision finishes in twelfth place Sunday, November 22, 2015 in the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. This Chevrolet drivers finished 2nd, 3rd and 4th (respectively) in the Chase of the Cup Championship. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Ryan Blaney and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Racing Team battled back from a bad re-start after the first caution of the race to finish 17th in the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. (Photo Credit: Campbell Marketing)
Series championship contenders Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, take part in pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Former racing driver Mario Andretti, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, and Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton pose during pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, and Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, celebrates winning the series championship and the race with a burnout after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, celebrates winning the series championship and the race in Victory Lane after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, celebrates winning the series championship and the race with his team after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Chris Buescher, driver of the #60 Fastenal Ford, and Regan Smith, driver of the #7 TaxSlayer.com Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR XFINITY Series Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 21, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Crest Chevrolet, races to the finish line to win the NASCAR XFINITY Series Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 21, 2015 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Crest Chevrolet, celebrates with the trophy in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR XFINITY Series Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 21, 2015 in Homestead, Florida (Photo Credit: Jeff Curry/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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