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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)
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, and team owner Tony Stewart celebrate winning in Victory Lane after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Marcos Ambrose, driver of the #9 Stanley Ford, poses with his team before his last race, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory and the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Sunday, November 16, 2014 winning the final NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS finishes 2nd. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory and the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Sunday, November 16, 2014 winning the final NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS finishes 2nd. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory and the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Sunday, November 16, 2014 winning the final NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS finishes 2nd. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory and the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Sunday, November 16, 2014 winning the final NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS finishes 2nd. (Photo by Christa L Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory and the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Sunday, November 16, 2014 winning the final NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS finishes 2nd. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
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)
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)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane 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: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 Napa Auto Parts Chevrolet, wins the EnjoyIllinois.com 300 race at Chicagoland Speedway on July 19, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, celebrates 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: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, celebrates with the trophy in Victory Lane after winning the series championship after 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)

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