Thinkin’ Out Loud – Denny Hamlin Wins at Watkins Glen

Who’s in the headlineDenny Hamlin out-drove the field in Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 from Watkins Glen International to pick up his first-career road course win.

Staying clean on pit road and on the racetrack, Hamlin passed Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch with 10 laps to go to return to Victory Lane for the second time of 2016 and 28th of his Sprint Cup Series career.

What happened – The race, however, was not as straightforward as Hamlin’s win, as the final corner alone saw both Martin Truex, Jr. and Kyle Larson crash out of their positions behind the winning Toyota of Hamlin.

They were far from the only torn-up cars on the track, as two red flags were thrown for heavy accidents entering and exiting the carousel corner. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Jimmie Johnson took hard impacts in the first while Kevin Harvick was the meat in the sandwich in the race’s final yellow-red period.

With Keselowski leading the most laps of the race [28] the 90-lap race featured eight leaders and nine lead changes, the most since 2012.

Why you should care – Denny Hamlin is officially an all-around NASCAR racer, as he finally took his first victory on a road course.

Don’t remind Hamlin, but a road win has been knocking on his door for quite some time. Opps, did I say knock? Well, that’s precisely what took the most recent road course win away from driver No. 11, as Tony Stewart knocked the Daytona 500 champion out of the lead on the final corner of Sonoma.

Moving on from that tough loss, Hamlin was in prime position to once again be bumped out of the way by fellow Toyota man Martin Truex, Jr. However, after Truex was spun by Brad Keselowski in the final turn, Hamlin could breath easy as he enjoyed his first right turn into Victory Lane.

What your friends are talking about

While the announcement was delayed a couple of days it is now official, Erik Jones will be driving a second car for Furniture Row Racing in 2017. Jones is a rising star in the NASCAR ranks and Toyota wants to make sure he stays in the family. With the affiliation of FRR with Joe Gibbs Racing, it affords the opportunity to have Jones continue to be a part of the JGR family while not burdening the team with the addition of a fourth car. This move also sets the table to keep Denny Hamlin in the JGR organization. Hamlin’s contract is up at the end of 2016 and there had been some rumors of him moving on from JGR if they were going to need a seat for Jones.

Speaking of contracts, Richard Childress Racing is close to announcing their 2017 lineup. The conventional wisdom says that Ty Dillon will be moving into the No. 31 with his brother Austin holding down the No. 3 and Paul Menard returning to the No. 27. The odd man out in this scenario is Ryan Newman. Rumblings are that he may be headed to Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates to pilot a third car. That move could put pressure on Newman to become the qualifying master again assuming CGR cannot secure a charter for the ride. However, there are rumblings that at least one charter team will not be back in 2017 so there may very well be one for sale for the right price.

Rick Hendrick is one of the top owners in NASCAR and has amassed an impressive fortune inside and outside of racing. One of the benefits of his vast wealth is that he is quite philanthropic. His latest public charitable activity is a donation of $34,000 to The Charlotte Observer’s Summer Camp Fund. The organization gives children from low income families the opportunity to attend summer camp. Hendrick was the honorary chairman of the fund raising drive and admits that experience has helped him learn more about the difficulties facing young people today. The donation put the fund over $190,000 in gifts for 2016 which made them eligible for an additional $25,000 grant from the Leon Levine Foundation.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. spoke to the media this week about his situation. Earnhardt was very candid about his interactions with his doctors and made it very clear that his health and well being was at the forefront of his treatment. His racing career is not part of the discussion with his caretakers. Earnhardt pointed out that he intends to finish his current contract with Hendrick Motorsports that runs through 2017. He also shared that he was in talks with Rick Hendrick about a contract extension before his concussion occurred.

Congratulations to Ashley Stremme on being named Mrs. United States 2016. The wife of David Stremme and hostess of multiple programs on MRN won the Mrs. North Carolina competition earlier this year which set her up to compete in the final round in Las Vegas. Stremme and her husband started a new dirt racing chassis business this year in addition to her increased activities on MRN.

Prayers are being sent up for Bryan Clauson. The outstanding open wheel racer was competing at the Belleville High Banks in Kansas on Saturday night when his midget climbed the guardrail and cartwheeled down the track. Just before coming to rest another competitor’s car struck Clauson’s as it was upside down. The car flew in the air a second time before landing upright on the track. Clauson was airlifted to Bryan Medical Center West. No official updates had been provided at the time of publication, but track officials told competitors he was stable but unconscious.

Who is mad – On the final corner of the final lap, Brad Keselowski spun Martin Truex, Jr. for the second position, one car-length off the lead. The No. 78 did a full 360 degree rotation before heading back in the right direction, finishing seventh.

Truex was looking for his first career victory at Watkins Glen International. His previous best effort came in 2013, driving for Michael Waltrip Racing. The Furniture Row Racing driver is sick of being taken advantage of.

“It’s like ‘oh you’re sorry,’ but what do I get out of it?” Truex said of the incident. “That’s racing. It’s like yesterday in qualifying. A guy pulls out in front of you and he says ‘I’m sorry’ well no [expletive] you’re sorry, but get out of the way and stop doing stupid stuff. I don’t run over people all the time. I don’t pull out in front of people in qualifying, so race me like I race you is all I ask.”

An honorable mention is Kyle Larson. He was running in the top five coming into the final turn of the race, but spun avoiding a sitting Truex. The No. 42 car triggered a multi-car pileup at the entrance of pit road, not finishing the race. He now sits just eight points above the cutline to the Chase with Chris Buescher three points behind the top 30.

Who is happy – After blowing a shot at the victory on the last lap in Sonoma, Denny Hamlin was triumphant at a road course for the first time in his career on Sunday. In his 11th full year of competition, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver has now won on every type of track that is on the NASCAR schedule.

Hamlin wanted to prove that his dominating performance in northern California wasn’t a fluke. Though he didn’t get out front until late in the race after a series of bad restarts from the leaders, he paced the final 10 laps.

Through 22 races this season all four Joe Gibbs Racing drivers have multiple wins. Last season, it took until the first race of the Chase before Hamlin recorded his second victory of the season.

Though she finished 21st, Danica Patrick led 11 laps on the afternoon, the most laps she has led in a single event in her Cup Series career.

Patrick and crew chief Billy Scott got off-sequence with the leaders, hoping to get their first top-10 finish of 2016. Though it didn’t work out, arguably this was the best race of the season for the No. 10 team.

When the checkered flag flew:

After 22 races Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, and Matt Kenseth are all locked into the Chase assuming they attempt the remaining races thanks to multiple race wins. Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart have one win and will be locked in provided there aren’t new winners in all of the remaining races before the Chase cut-off. Chris Buescher, thanks to his win at Pocono, is poised to make the Chase but has to work his way into the top 30 in points to make that happen.

The remaining Chase drivers at this point and their point position:

  1. Austin Dillon
  2. Ryan Newman
  3. Chase Elliott
  4. Jamie McMurray
  5. Kyle Larson

What is in the cooler

Cautions, cautions, cautions. With just one caution in the opening half of the Cheez-it 355, it looked like it was going to be an easy day at the Glen.

You shouldn’t have told the second half of the race that.

There were seven caution flags, including two red flags, combining for over a half-hour of stoppage. On lap 54, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. got loose out of the carousel, crashing into the armco barrier coming back into the middle of the track. It was there where Jimmie Johnson crashed into the No. 17 car, getting Stenhouse airborne.

Trying to avoid the crash, Greg Biffle and Austin Dillon crashed further down the straightaway. It was costly for Dillon as he finished 31st, losing valuable points toward the Chase cutoff.

The second red flag was for an incident involving seven cars, most notably Buescher.  

Where do you point your DVR for next week – Next weekend is the final off weekend of the season for the Cup series. The XFINITY series will be running at Mid-Ohio Motorsports Park on USA network. Following the off week the Cup series will head to Bristol Motor Speedway for the traditional night race.

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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The wording week in and out depending on who the drivers are fascinates…..

Bill B

In the what your friends are talking about section….”With the affiliation of FRR with Joe Gibbs Racing, it affords the opportunity to have Jones continue to be a part of the JGR family while not burdening the team with the addition of a fourth car.” ?????

Uh, JGR is a 4 car team. Am I misreading that?
It should read… “With the affiliation of FRR with Joe Gibbs Racing, it affords the opportunity to have Jones continue to be a part of the JGR family while not exceeding the 4 car limit that NASCAR has imposed on teams. Wink, wink.”

Otherwise it was a decent race to watch.


I was going to make the same comment. It did sound like he momentarily forgot that JGR is a four-car team.


Except that it isn’t a four-car team. It’s a five-car team going on six.


did my eyes play tricks on me..i turned on race at one point, it was about lap 32….princess sparkle pony was leading the race, and for more than 1 lap and i don’t think caution flag was out. i’m surprised the heavens didn’t open up and pour rain and na$car make a spot rule change where “if princess sparkle pony is finally leading race and rains come, race is “official” so we can have the marking headline for a month.


It was during a green flag run with different fuel stops, kind of like Tony Stewart at Sonoma. I expected a caution flag for debris that lasted to half way and gave her the win due to excessive sunshine.


The state of RCR these days is such that the announcement of its lineup is about as relevant as me making a public pronouncement about what I’m having for dinner tonight.


With respect, there has been zero discussion of Hamlin moving on from JGR to make room for Erik Jones or anyone else. Matt Kenseth is 44 years old, given that..why on earth would JGR move on from Denny Hamlin who is a full decade younger and a perennial title contender? As I understand it, Kenseth is signed through 2017 along with new sponsor DeWalt. Jones’ deal with FRR runs through the same term. Jones indicated he is still contractually tied to JGR with the most likely scenario being a move into the 20 car in 17′ or more likely 18′ with Daniel Suarez possibly taking over the second FRR ride. Jones’ sponsor agreement with DeWalt in the NXS is also telling in this respect. Matt Kenseth is still competing at a high level, but he will be 46 by the time 2018 rolls around and it’s a short list of drivers who have remained elite at that age. Let’s also not discount the importance of Hamlin’s 10 plus year relationship with FedEx, a Fortune 500 company that is one of the last remaining full-season primaries in the sport. Additionally, it may surprise some to know that on a per-start basis, Denny Hamlin has won more often than Matt Kenseth in his career anyway. It would be foolish to part with such a productive driver at age 35

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