Monday is again fun day for Denny
Posted: Tuesday, April 20, 2010 5:30 pm
By: By STEPHEN HAWKINS, AP Sports Writer
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart walked together toward pit road from the mangled messes that their cars had become after a spectacular race-changing wreck.
The frustration was obvious on the face of Gordon, who had already led six times for 124 laps and was trying to get back to the front when the nine-car crash happened on the Texas Motor Speedway frontstretch. Stewart, the polesitter who had led 74 laps, took the blame.
“Feel bad about it, about doing something stupid like that,” Stewart said afterward. “I didn’t plan on getting loose, but it is 100 percent my fault.”
After the two front-runners made contact in a tight pack to help trigger the wreck and bring out the red flag, hobbling Denny Hamlin held off NASCAR Sprint Cup points leader Jimmie Johnson to win the 12-lap sprint to the finish line Monday.
Three weeks after winning another rain-postponed Cup race, and since having surgery to repair the torn ACL in his left knee, Hamlin gingerly climbed out of his car in Victory Lane with his 10th career victory.
Two days after the Monday victory at Martinsville, Hamlin had surgery on the knee he injured playing basketball in January.
The Easter weekend break provided some recovery time, but he was back in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota for the entire race last weekend. He completed 376 laps at the mile Phoenix International Raceway. He bypassed a chance to get out of the cockpit during an extended stop for repairs, even though a relief driver was standing by and the team two laps down.
“Easiest thing to do is just get out and let him take over,” Hamlin said. “I did it for team morale, and obviously it paid off this weekend. We had a strong day on pit road. … I think it just showed a little bit of courage for those guys. I knew they would give their left leg for me, and I was willing to do the same thing for them.”
Hamlin, who said his knee is only about 60 percent healed, started 29th in the 334-lap, 501-mile race. He didn’t lead until going in front a half-lap after the final restart and staying there.
On the first lap after a restart with 18 laps left — following yellow-flag stops when Stewart was among the drivers who took only two tires and Gordon took four — they ended up three-wide with Gordon in the middle and Johnson on the inside coming out of Turn 4.
Stewart got loose in the pack and there was contact with Gordon, who had three-time Texas winner Carl Edwards coming up behind and trying to follow him. While Stewart said it was all his fault, Edwards took some of the blame as well.
“Every second, every position counts on those restarts with that few of laps to go. I saw Tony backing up and then he got loose. I was trying not to get in to him. … I got clipped in the right rear and turned me in the wall,” Gordon said. “Gosh, what a race car we had. That is what I am bummed out the most about.”
Gordon was trying to win at Texas for the second year in a row. Gordon was driving so hard for another victory — he has only one in the last 84 races — that with 94 laps left he bumped Hendrick Motorsports teammate Johnson and damaged the front left fender of the No. 48 car that Gordon owns.
“It’s going to happen in racing. Doesn’t matter if it’s teammates or not,” Johnson said. “Jeff and I have been racing hard against each other for wins for a long time. We’ve had this issue in the past, so I really don’t see it being a big deal.”
That got Johnson out of sequence on pit stops when he had to make a stop to fix a flat tire, but the late cautions got him back in order and he got his fifth top-three finish of the season. He finished only 0.152 seconds behind Hamlin and increased his points leader over Matt Kenseth from 36 to 108.
Once the track was cleaned up and the red flag withdrawn after nearly 21 minutes, Jeff Burton was on the inside and Hamlin on the outside with a plan when the race restarted.
“You can sit there and digest things and think about what do I have to do for the first two laps to win this race,” Hamlin said. “The race was going to get one in the first two laps. Whoever got clear was going to win. As long as there wasn’t another caution.”
For the first time in three races, there weren’t any extra laps.
Gordon, coming off consecutive top-three finishes after leading on the final restart in overtime of both, wound up 31st. That was a spot ahead of Stewart, who started from the pole for the first time in five years.
Hamlin’s Gibbs teammate Kyle Busch finished third, then about an hour later went back on the 1 1/2-mile, high-banked track and led 153 laps while winning the twice-delayed 300-mile Nationwide race.
Busch joined two-time series champion Jack Ingram and Dale Earnhardt Sr., as the only drivers to win five consecutive races in NASCAR’s second-tier series at the same track. It was also the first time a team won Cup and Nationwide races on the same day at the same track.
There were 15 drivers who were in both races, including the top eight finishers in the Nationwide nightcap. Only Busch, Kevin Harvick and Greg Biffle completed all 534 laps for 801 miles Monday.