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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)
Timothy Peters, driver of the #17 Red Horse Racing Toyota, races Cole Custer, driver of the #00 Haas Automation Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 200 at Dover International Speedway on May 29, 2015 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Daniel Shirey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Cares Toyota, left, poses with Miss Coors Light Amanda Mertz and the Coors Light Pole Award after qualifying for the pole for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway on May 29, 2015 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Cares Toyota, left, poses with Miss Coors Light Amanda Mertz and the Coors Light Pole Award after qualifying for the pole for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway on May 29, 2015 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Jamie McMurray, driver of the #1 McDonald’s/Cessna Chevrolet SS, qualified for eleventh position, Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS, qualified for 33rd position Friday, May 29, 2015, for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race Sunday at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware. McMurray is 8th, Patrick is 18th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Tim Parks/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 DiTech Chevrolet SS, qualified for sixth position, Friday, May 29, 2015, for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race Sunday at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware. Harvick leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet SS, qualified for third position, Friday, May 29, 2015, for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race Sunday at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware. Larson is 22nd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS, qualified for second position, Friday, May 29, 2015, for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race Sunday at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware. Truex, Jr. is second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Patriotic Chevrolet, is involved in an on-track incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 24, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet, Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, and Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Office Toyota, lead the field into turn one during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 24, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, finished in ninth place, Sunday, May 24, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Quicken Loans Chevrolet SS, stops in his pit on his way to a sixth place finish, Sunday, May 24, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Martin Truex, Jr, driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS, stops in his pit on his way to a fifth place finish, Sunday, May 24, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS, finished in third place, Sunday, May 24, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 23, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina. CPT Travis L. Patriquin, US Army, is honored on the car as part of the 600 Miles of Remembrance program.  (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #25 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 23, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Michael S. Duskin is honored on the car as part of the 600 Miles of Remembrance program.  (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 LiftMaster Chevrolet, stands in the garage area with crew members during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 23, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

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