LOUDON, N.H. — Exuding supreme confidence in his Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing team, Darian Grubb-led race crew, and his own abilities, Denny Hamlin made a bold gesture after his dominant victory in Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Backing up a tweet he made a week ago in which he all but guaranteed victory in the second race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, Hamlin charged his way from 32d to lead four times for 193 laps and celebrated with a burnout on the front stretch of the 1.058-mile oval.
After bringing his No. 11 Toyota to a stop on the granite stripe at the finish line, Hamlin climbed out, pointed to the crowd in the grandstands, and took an imaginary baseball swing at a home run he called.
How’s that for calling your shot?
“It doesn’t hurt to have a little confidence in your team,’’ Hamlin said after he captured his series-leading fifth victory of the season and the 100th of Gibbs’s career. Hamlin finished 2.675 seconds ahead of Jimmie Johnson, who took a 1-point lead over sixth-place Brad Keselowski in the Chase standings (2,096-2,095).
“I know we made a couple of mistakes in the last two weeks,’’ Hamlin said. “But I said we were fast enough to make it up and we were.’’
After a miscue by gas man Scott Wood caused Hamlin to run out of fuel and fall out of contention last weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, where he finished 16th and dropped to fourth in the points, Hamlin tweeted: “This is 1 week of 10. We will win next week.’’
When pressed about his tweet Friday, Hamlin was mystified by the stir it seemed to cause. He tried to backtrack, saying he was simply trying to bolster his devastated crew, fan base, and Twitter followers.
“I just wanted to clarify that I wasn’t guaranteeing anything,’’ Hamlin said. “But barring any [unforeseen] circumstances from happening, we were going to win. I had faith that we were going to win.’’
Hamlin unloaded the fastest car in the field, but his faith never wavered when he failed to put it on the pole position after a crew member mistakenly applied the wrong tire pressure for his qualifying run. Hamlin, who was also fastest during Saturday’s two practice sessions, wound up qualifying 32d, well off the pace (28.232 seconds) set by pole winner Jeff Gordon.
“Mistakes happen,’’ Hamlin tweeted. “As soon as we execute we will perform. Good news is it looks like we can run a 28.9 in race trim. Lol.’’
The fact was not lost on Hamlin’s competitors, who figured it wouldn’t take him long to race his way to the front.
“Yeah, he gave us a little optimism on Friday qualifying that maybe they could mess it up for the race,’’ said Gordon, who finished third.
Unlike July’s Lenox Industrial Tools 301, in which Hamlin led 150 laps and looked to be a runaway winner until a miscommunication with Grubb led to a four-tire pit stop that cost the driver precious track position, his crew performed flawlessly on pit road.
“The way we ran here [in July] we knew we had a shot at it,’’ Grubb said. “So we wanted to make sure we gave Denny every chance. We are just disappointed we didn’t show the qualifying effort, because I think we could have won everything this weekend. But that just made the show that much better with Denny being able to drive from the back and put on a show there.’’
Hamlin said it was his objective to charge his way to the lead by Lap 100. He did it on Lap 94.
When the first of four yellows came out for a competition caution on Lap 42, Hamlin had made up 20 spots and was running 12th. When he climbed to seventh on Lap 53, Hamlin began to methodically pick off the cars in front of him, passing Clint Bowyer for sixth on Lap 54, Ryan Newman for fifth three laps later, and then Tony Stewart for fourth on Lap 60.
Hamlin then set his sights on the top three cars of Gibbs teammate Kyle Busch, and Hendrick teammates Kasey Kahne and Gordon, making his move for third with a Turn 2 pass of Gordon on Lap 76. He moved into second, passing Kahne on Lap 87, then spent the next six laps stalking his teammate before surging to the lead for the first time in the race on Lap 94.
Once he got out front, Hamlin ran in clean air and proved uncatchable as he built a lead of 6.451 seconds over Johnson, which was erased by the race’s fourth and final caution on Lap 274 for debris in Turn 2.
Asked if anybody was capable of catching Hamlin on the restart, Gordon replied, “No.’’
To which Johnson chimed in, “No. Kept waiting for him to make a mistake, [but] he did a good job.’’
“I don’t think that thing bobbled all day,’’ Gordon marveled.
“Never even slipped a tire,’’ Johnson said.
It was that kind of dominant run for Hamlin.
“I knew once we got to about Lap 50 and started working our way to sixth, seventh position, I knew we had the winning car,’’ said Hamlin, whose only worry at that point was bringing it home to Victory Lane. “For me, that was the most nerve-wracking part; let’s not find a way to lose it, because I knew we had the fastest car today.
“You know, I’ve obviously got a great knack for this racetrack, so it crossed my mind, but then it’s extra motivation in my mind to prove yourself right.’’