LOUDON, N.H. -- Denny Hamlin figured he had enough fuel to make to a green-white-checkered finish. But he knew he wouldn't be able to go any longer if yesterday's Lenox Industrial Tools 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway went beyond its scheduled distance.
As it turned out, the race went eight extra laps, which proved eight too many for the rookie driver of the No. 11 Chevrolet fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing. Hamlin had what appeared to be a runner-up finish to winner Kyle Busch all but sewn up when his car sputtered as it came chugging out of the final turn and ran out of gas some 100 yards later, barely coasting across the finish line for sixth place.
Hamlin's day was done in by a backstretch wreck involving Michael Waltrip and Robby Gordon that left Waltrip's car crippled in the middle of the track as the field was set to take the green on Lap 303. Waltrip's simmering feud with Gordon, which spilled over from a confrontation in last September's race, left Hamlin fuming.
``The guys wrecked under caution and that really killed us," said Hamlin, who wound up being credited as the Rookie of the Race for the 10th time in 18 races. ``It's pretty unfortunate. It was looking like I had a shot at the win because Kyle's car didn't come in very good, but I sputtered right there at the green-white-checkered [on Lap 306]. I couldn't really do anything.
``It's pretty unfortunate, but, still, a sixth-place run, we were able to get it to the [finish] line and I'm pretty happy about."
Asked how he intended to rebound from yesterday's disappointment, Hamlin looked ahead to the track where he recorded his first career Nextel Cup victory in June, and replied, ``The best way to rebound is to go to a track that we kicked some butt at. We plan on doing the same thing this week."
Next week's Cup stop at Pocono Raceway for the Pennsylvania 500.
After his crew pushed the lifeless Dale Earnhardt Inc. Chevy back to the garage, Earnhardt pulled himself out of the car. He wrapped a wet towel around his neck and sat on the floor, leaning against his team's tool box and took a drink of water. When Earnhardt got up, he was limping heavily, favoring his right foot.
``If you're out there running, it's fine," Earnhardt, who wasn't concerned with his foot, said about the heat. ``But if you have to cruise right there, you don't really realize how hot you are and how tired you are. I didn't get any warning from the motor. It just snapped. I don't understand. That's only the second or third motor I've ever blown with DEI."
Earnhardt dropped four spots to seventh in the points chase, 361 behind leader Jimmie Johnson. Johnson padded the cushion between himself and Matt Kenseth, who now trails by 68 points.
``The thing you've got to remember is that I've been lucky enough to, in a worse-case scenario, drive hurt and never had a sick day," Martin said before the race. ``That's a long time. Also, you've got to remember, I've driven awfully good cars. Otherwise that streak wouldn't be there."
One of eight drivers entered in yesterday's race who participated in NHIS's inaugural Cup race, the Slick 50 300, in July 1993, Martin yesterday finished fourth, marking his first top five in his last 12 starts at NHIS.
``We had a really good-handling car, it wasn't the fastest out there but it was good enough that we could skip tires," Martin said. ``Sometimes you can't have it all, but if you can just have the handling _ we took gas only the last two times in, you know, so we were disadvantaged on tires, but in the end that didn't hurt because the car would work on them, we were able to hold our track position, good strategy and good run."