24 September 2012
Hamlin delivers with dominant display
"It was a huge day for us," Joe Gibbs admitted. "Bobby Labonte came into victory circle and I appreciated Bobby, Dale Jarrett, Jimmy Makar, everybody when he first started, Tony - so it took a lot of people down the road. But, certainly, gosh, think back on my 21 years: just doesn't seem like it was that long ago and you realize that we've got a hundred wins. That was a huge deal for us."
He'd been especially impressed with the way that Denny Hamlin had led the team through a couple of weeks of self-inflicted mishaps that could have led other drivers to brood, but which Hamlin had reacted by galvanising the team with his public prediction of winning at New Hampshire .
"I really appreciate the way he handles everything," said Gibbs. "For two weeks in a row, we had two things happen on our race team that really [set us back] and I think the way Denny reacted both times was just absolutely great, I think that meant a lot to his team.
"The way you handle things like that, being the guy that's wheeling the car, I think is a big deal," Gibbs explained. "Last week, he was real relaxed afterwards and that person took it real hard. This week, I turned around when we figured out kind of what we thought [the qualifying error] might be in the pit area and Denny just grabbed the crew member in a headlock and was laughing with him like that. I thought for a minute it was going to be a headlock and a punch, but it wasn't!"
Johnson was content with second place in the circumstances. "We had a great race car, just not an amazing car like the #11 had," he admitted. "We were best in class today; did a great job. We really expected the #11 to be tough here today, and he was."
Johnson's Hendrick team mate Jeff Gordon managed to supplant Clint Bowyer for third place, but despite this strong showing after the disaster of last week's Chicago outing for the four-time champion, it's done almost nothing for Gordon's Chase hopes simply because so many of his rival contenders also finished up near the front.
"We gained a lot on a lot of guys - it's going to be tough to gain on guys like the #48 and the #2, certainly today nobody was going to gain on that #11," said Gordon. "It is one at a time. There is no doubt we can get ourselves back into this. We're a strong team, with fast race cars. We just have to consistently put those results together that we're capable of, and who knows where we can get to in the points."
Another Hendrick driver, Kasey Kahne, finished in fifth with Penske Racing's Keselowski in sixth, while Tony Stewart followed behind in seventh ahead of the first of the non-Chase runners Joey Logano and Brian Vickers in eighth and ninth respectively. Kevin Harvick ended up a respectable 11th place and Earnhardt Jr. managed to fight back to pip Mat Kenseth for 13th place.
Martin Truex Jr. fell back to a disappointing 17th place after running so strongly early in the race, putting him just ahead of Greg Biffle who ended up the lowest of the Chase contenders at Loudon.
"We were just battling overall grip," said Biffle of his own afternoon's endeavours. "Our car just didn't have any grip right when we unloaded off the truck and never fixed it. We were way loose in the corner and had no rear grip. We chattered the front tires. We chattered the rear tires. There at the end we chattered all four, so it was just back and forth with all four tires chattering but no grip at all."
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