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Hamlin delivers with dominant display

Having worked his way diligently up from 20th position, it was Jimmie Johnson who perked up during this stage of the race and completed his move up toward the front, finally putting himself into a position to challenge Kyle Busch for second place on lap 164 - which he pulled off, remarkably easily. Almost immediately it was clear that Busch had a problem, and soon he was passed by Clint Bowyer, then Kasey Kahne. His engine was sounding sick and it was evident that the #18 was on life support, and crew chief Dave Rogers explained that it wasn't even worth brining the car in to try and effect repairs.

"Man, if it can happen this year, it's going to happen," he said. "Something went through the motor and knocked out a spark plug ... We pulled the plug out, and something had knocked the end of a plug off, because there were a lot of metal shavings in there. So I'm not sure if something broke in the motor and came up and hit the plug, or if we somehow passed debris through the air filter. But something, somehow got in the motor and knocked out a plug.

"It's one of those deals where we knew that if we came behind the pit wall to try to fix it, we were just going to lose a bunch of laps and a bunch of positions. So, we just stayed out there and rode it out," he explained. "Toyota does a great job for us, they'll bring it back to the shop and figure it out and make it better."

In the meantime the only remaining role Busch had to play in the afternoon's proceedings was to be on the receiving end of an almighty shove from old nemesis Kevin Harvick on lap 176, and then to slow up dramatically on lap 209 to allow Hamlin to catch him up to that he could use the back end of the #18 to suck off some debris on his own front grill that had been threatening to send the oil and water temperatures through the roof and blow the engine on the #11 as well. Once the debris was removed, Hamlin thanked his team mate by promptly putting him a lap down: by the end of the race Busch was left two laps off the pace and in 28th spot.

In the meantime, there had been a third caution of the afternoon on lap 178 - again for debris - which had enabled Brian Vickers to leap into the lead spot for the restart in the third of the MWR cars by being one of only takers for two-tyres only. Hamlin was alongside him for the green flag and promptly took his lead back, however, while Jimmie Johnson also eventually passed Vickers for second.

Vickers still held on to third place all the way through to the next round of green flag pit stops that started around lap 235. Vickers had to pay back the advantage he'd got in the earlier stop with a longer visit to pit road for four tyres this time, and when the stops had cycled through it was Hamlin leading from Bower, Johnson, Keselowski and Gordon as the Chase contenders continued to dominate proceedings.

With less than 30 laps to go and no cautions in nearly a 100 laps, Hamlin's lead was over five seconds and he must have thought that the race was a done deal - when the caution flags came out again on lap 272. Hamlin wasn't surprised, but he did sound exasperated as he sighed: "Really?" over the team radio. The timing just seemed too perfect, special-ordered by NASCAR to close up the field and make sure the TV audiences had a rousing finish to what had been, in truth, a fairly dull afternoon of racing for anyone who wasn't called Hamlin.

The TV cameras couldn't find the debris in question, but spectators at the track confirmed that it wasn't entirely 'phantom' - a spring rubber had found its way into the racing line, and that could slice a tyre open and cause a puncture if left unattended. Even so, it still felt like the sort of debris that would have been cheerfully overlooked in many other circumstances.

In any case, Hamlin the the rest of the top six stayed out of pit lane, and when the green flag came out it was clear that the pause hadn't taken any of the shine off the #11 car. He was away, gone, done. By the time that the chequered flag came out he was over two and a half seconds in front of Jimmie Johnson, who easily cruised home to second place.

Hamlin had delivered in that prediction; and in doing do, he'd also delivered the 100th Cup victory for Joe Gibbs Racing, something that his team owner was delighted by.




Related Pictures

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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)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, leads the field after a restart during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 14, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 14, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, places his name in the top twelve on The Chase Grid after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 14, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 14, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois.  (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, puts the winner`s sticker on his car in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 14, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Cars race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 14, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Toyota, leads Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, and Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 14, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois.  (Photo Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Aric Almirola, driver of the #43 Eckrich Ford, races Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 14, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 14, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Toyota, leads the field past the green flag to start the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 14, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #5 Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, celebrates with his son, Keelan, in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Jimmy John`s Freaky Fast 300 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 13, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Johnny Sauter, driver of the #98 Nextant/Curb Records Toyota, leads the field through the green flag to start the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 225 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 13, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois.  (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #51 Dollar General Toyota, crosses the finishline to win the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 225 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 13, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #51 Dollar General Toyota, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 225 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 13, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #5 Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Jimmy John`s Freaky Fast 300 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 13, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #5 Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series Jimmy John`s Freaky Fast 300 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 13, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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