FORT WORTH, TX – Denny Hamlin entered the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season on the heels of a 47 race winless streak. For the first time of his Cup Series career, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver went winless in 2018. He also went the final 11 races of the 2017 season without a win too.
But, through the first seven races of 2019, Hamlin has now reached victory lane twice.
On Sunday, with just a handful of laps to-go, Hamlin inherited the lead after the final green flag pit sequence and never looked back en route to his second win of the season and 33rd of his Cup career. He’s now tied with Fireball Roberts for 22nd on the all-time wins list.
Hamlin, took the lead when Erik Jones hit pit lane for his final time with just a little more than 20 laps remaining in Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway and only gave it up when he took his No. 11 Toyota down pit lane for the final time with 13 to go.
But, hitting pit lane still had him nervous. See, the last three races have been a disaster for the Virginia native on pit road.
In Fontana, he was caught speeding. Last weekend in Martinsville, he had a tire penalty. Both races, he had a car to win but finished seventh and fifth respectively.
On Sunday, he missed the pits on his first green flag pit sequence. He had to go around the track another time, which cost him dearly. Then, on that pit stop, he was caught speeding.
That wasn’t his only problem on the day either.
After he won the second stage, he hit pit lane but was called for a controversial uncontrolled tire penalty. He’d go from first to the end of the lead lap. Then, on his second to last pit stop, he missed pit lane once again.
So, forgive him for being nervous on hitting pit road for the final time of the day.
He and his crew were flawless though and Hamlin came back out in the lead when it was all said and done and earned his third career win on the 1.5-mile track.
This was also just his second top five finish at Texas since his 2010 sweep. It was also Joe Gibbs Racing’s eighth win at Texas, moving them one win shy of tying Hendrick Motorsports and Roush/Fenway Racing (9) for the most ever.
Hamlin, beat the Stewart-Haas Racing duo of Clint Bowyer and Daniel Suarez as both earned season best finishes on Sunday afternoon.
Bowyer, finished runner-up in his No. 14 Ford in earning his first top five finish at Texas since 2011. It was also his second consecutive top 10 result of the season.
Suarez, led nine laps in his third place effort in his No. 41 Ford. The Mexican driver scored 12 stage points on Sunday, second most of all drivers.
Hamlin’s JGR teammate of Erik Jones overcame an early race spin to bring his No. 20 Toyota home in fourth. Jones, also finished fourth in both races at Texas a year ago too.
Pole sitter Jimmie Johnson led 60 laps, more than he led in the entire 2018 season, and rounded out the top five in his No. 48 Chevrolet.
Here’s the main takeaways from Sunday’s race.
Kyle Busch’s Sweep Comes Up Short After Pushing Too Hard, Still Strong Day For JGR Overall
Busch, entered Sunday hoping for his third career NASCAR weekend sweep. Unfortunately, he leaves with a 10th place result. The Las Vegas native won both the Truck Series race on Friday night and the XFINITY Series race on Saturday afternoon. He looked like he would actually sweep the weekend when most of the favorites found troubles in some way or the other in Sunday’s 334 Lap event.
Busch, looked strong in his No. 18 Toyota and took over the lead on Lap 246. He was well in control until his car got loose and he got into the wall on Lap 275. That effectively ended his race winning hopes.
“The car just got loose there,” said Busch after leading a race high 69 laps on Sunday. “We had made an adjustment to help with the loose issue, but it went the other way for some reason – so something to learn from there. We were in a good position there though to get the win today with our Interstate Batteries Toyota, but it just wasn’t meant to be. We will go on to next week and get back on it at Bristol.”
Despite losing a lap and falling down to 23rd (one lap down), he charged all the way up to a top 10 finish. Busch, now has a top 10 in all seven races in 2019.
With Hamlin’s win and Jones’ fourth place finish, JGR put three of their four cars in the top 10 on Sunday.
Not a bad day.
Truex Struggled All Weekend
Its been a slower than normal year for Truex Jr. Yes, he entered Sunday with five straight top eight finishes in his No. 19 Toyota, but he also led just four total laps all year too.
In practice, he was only 24th in both sessions this weekend. He started the race in 17th. That didn’t stop him from finding his way towards the front and even leading 10 laps. But, his car faltered and he’d finish a disappointing 12th.
Stewart-Haas Racing Makes Gains, Harvick Leaves Mad
SHR didn’t win the race on Sunday and now has a nine race winless drought, but they are making gains. Yes, Penske and JGR have combined to win all seven races in 2019 and even won the final two races of 2018 too, but SHR is making gains.
They took two of the top three finishing spots and placed all four cars in the top eight in Sunday’s race.
Bowyer, is finally getting some finishes going his way. After four finishes outside of the top 10 in the first five events of 2019, the Kansas native now has two consecutive top 10 finishes on the year.
He brought his No. 14 Ford home seventh last Sunday in Martinsville and now leaves Texas with a runner-up effort. It was his first top five finish at Texas since 2011.
“We had to unclog ourselves,” said Bowyer on Sunday. “Once we unclogged ourselves, we were really good. Our Mustangs were fast all weekend long. Took a while for our Mustang to get good. This Rush Trucks Center Cummins car to be honest was a little off all weekend long. I was pretty nervous coming into the race. (Crew chief) Mike (Bugarewicz) and everybody made some good adjustments, and then lean on your teammates.
“When you only have an hour’s worth of practice, it pulls you away from something you were trying, anything out of your wheelhouse. Just kind of put us all back together with all four cars at Stewart‑Haas. All in all, hey, I wanted to catch him (Hamlin) bad. He just come out of the pits way too far ahead of me. Wasn’t much I could do about it.”
Suarez, is finally coming into his own too. He finished 13th two weeks ago in Fontana, then 10th last weekend in Martinsville. On Sunday, he’d bring his No. 41 Ford home third for his best result of the year and first top 10 finish of his career in Texas.
“It was a solid day, for sure,” said Suarez who also led nine laps on Sunday too. “Overall I want to just say that I’m very proud of Stewart‑Haas Racing, everyone that makes this possible. We’ve been working very hard to make our race cars better. Definitely we’re heading in the right direction. It’s the second week in a row that all Stewart‑Haas cars are in the top 10. That’s something very good.”
The third driver in the group in Aric Almirola battled the flu this weekend but still kept his hot start to the season going. The Florida native finished 18th in Stage 1, 12th in Stage 2, then finished seventh in his No. 10 Ford. It was Almirola’s sixth consecutive top 10 finish on the season too.
“I’m tired,” Almirola said. “It was a long night last night. I didn’t sleep at all, throwing up with a stomach bug, so I’m really, really depleted. I haven’t been able to keep anything down, so I’m just really hungry and I’m really tired. … We don’t get to call in sick. That’s the challenging part of our job occasionally. The flu or a cold or a stomach bug pops up and you’ve got to fight through it. I’m really proud of everybody on our Smithfield Prime Fresh Ford Mustang. We had a good car and track position there and strategy and pit stops and stuff and we still got out of here with a top 10, so that’s six in a row. I’m proud of that.”
The last driver in the SHR group was Kevin Harvick. Yes, he finished eighth in his No. 4 Ford, but he wasn’t happy.
“Our day was a disaster,” said Harvick following his 10th consecutive top 10 finish in Texas. “Our car drove terrible and that pretty much sums it up.”
Harvick, also has scored six straight top 10 finishes on the season in his No. 4 Ford, but he failed to lead a lap once again and has just one top five finish in the last month. Also, he was off all weekend too.
Harvick, finished 16th in both stages on Sunday and ended a streak of three straight top two finishes on the 1.5-mile track.
Hendrick Motorsports Shows Strength
2019 has been a struggle for HMS. That comes after a struggling season in 2018 too. But, after the west coast swing, everyone warned that they’d need to get back to the east coast shops to make adjustments.
Texas would be the real race to see how much everyone has learned thus far. If that is indeed true, then HMS could have a rebounding season after all.
Jimmie Johnson led more laps on Sunday than he did all of last year in a fifth place effort in his No. 48 Chevrolet. He led 60 laps in all in Sunday’s race and earned his third top 10 of the season.
I wrote earlier in the week on how after Johnson’s struggling day in Martinsville, then this may be who he really is now. If he couldn’t perform at Texas, a track that he’s had so much success at in the past, then they’d be toast.
He leaves with some momentum now.
Second year driver William Byron finished sixth in his No. 24 Chevrolet for his first top 10 result of the year. Byron, started second and led 15 laps himself.
Chase Elliott led 35 laps but finished 13th in his No. 9 Chevrolet.
Alex Bowman had some speed on Friday but when he crashed in qualifying, his whole weekend changed. He’d bring his No. 88 Chevrolet home 18th.
While they didn’t win, they did combine to lead 110 laps and put two cars in the top six. That’s a strong start.
Penske’s Strong Start Ends With Broken Parts At Texas
Heading into the weekend, I wrote that Penske would be among the favorites to win Sunday’s race. Joey Logano had scored six straight top seven finishes at Texas in his No. 22 Ford and seven in his last eight overall. He also had three top four finishes already in 2019 too.
Plus, Ryan Blaney is at his best at Texas too. He came away with a runner-up last Fall on the 1.5-mile track including three top six finishes in his last three Texas starts. Also, on the season, Blaney had found his groove in scoring three straight top fives.
But, despite both looking so strong to start the race off, both joined Brad Keselowski in the bad luck department.
Keselowski, saw something break on his No. 2 Ford towards the end of the opening stage which forced him behind the wall. By time they got back out on the track, he was 56 laps down.
“Something broke out of nowhere,” said the two-time race winner in 2019. “We weren’t going very fast or anything and something in the back of the car broke and it won’t go. It’s one of those really important parts as Kenny Schrader would say.”
Keselowski, capped a disastrous weekend with a 36th place finish. He crashed in Saturday’s XFINITY Series race and finished 36th there too.
Logano, was next on the chopping block when after an uncontrolled tire penalty at the end of Stage 2, his hood on his No. 22 Ford broke. They’d limp home with a 17th place finish. Again, something “broke.”
“Something came apart in the bracing underneath the hood, I believe, and then the hood started flaring all over the place,” said the Connecticut native. “The hood was gonna blow off the car if we didn’t get a caution, so we were able to fix it but went down a lap and there weren’t enough cautions to ever get the lucky dog. We rode around in the lucky dog spot for a while, but never got that. That really altered the handling once we had all the bearer bond on the front. The car got really draggy and got real tight, but we won a stage. I was proud of the speed that was in the car. Our car was capable of winning the race, but didn’t have the opportunity to take advantage of it.”
Finally, it was Blaney’s turn next. He was leading the race and looked well in contention until smoke erupted under the hood of his No. 12 Ford. Blaney, would get a DNF with a 37th place finish as a result.
“A part broke off and leaked all the water out, so that’s the way it goes,” said Blaney. “It just seems that’s the way this season is going. We’ve had a shot to win pretty much every race and something happens. That’s getting old, but the car is fast. That’s the bright side, but I’m kind of tired of looking at the bright side. I want to actually start finishing where we should. It’s just one of those days.”