How the race was won
Hamlin Denny Hamlin recovered from a slow start and drove his way to the cusp of a top-five finish. But a late two-tire stop gave him the race lead, and first Martin Truex Jr. and then Jeff Gordon (both on four fresh tires) were unable to run him down in the waning laps – partly because they spent so much time battling each other – as Hamlin survived a bump from Gordon in Turn 4 to score the victory.
Story of the race
A late pit call and a late battle up front.
Give 'em credit
Hamlin and crew chief Mike Ford. Great call by Ford, great execution by Hamlin.
Jeff Green. Good race, anyway, but bold pit call leaves him with a sixth-place finish.
Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. No crew chiefs? No problem.
Truex Jr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Looked like Truex would win this one. Either way, DEI looking very good these days.
Other top-10 finishers, including Jeff Burton (continues to rebuild momentum) and Ryan Newman (nice recovery from a couple of bad weeks). And though he faded from the top 10, good run from Johnny Sauter – though his car, along with Kyle Busch's, failed postrace inspection.
Dave Blaney and Bill Davis Racing. OK, so Sunday didn't go so well, but scoring Toyota's first Cup pole deserves mention. BDR has been on the cusp of being pretty decent this year, but it has yet to get over the hump. Will it?
NASCAR. Some may not agree with the COT penalties, but consistency perhaps is the most important issue here. In that respect, NASCAR hit the mark.
What were they thinking?
David Ragan. Sure, the last-lap run-in with Kurt Busch clearly was unintentional, but don't make it sound like just some racing deal in a postrace interview. Ragan went in hard, locked up the tires and wrecked Busch. It happens, it's understandable. But it still is Ragan's fault. That aside, a pretty decent run for the rookie.
Tony Stewart. Everyone makes mistakes, and his poor pit entry was an ill-timed one. And he knows it. Good news for him is that giving up six or seven spots in the finishing order makes practically no difference.
All those who were too heavy-footed on pit road. This means you, Greg Biffle!
Better luck next time
Edwards Those who want to argue that Edwards' No. 99 crew belongs in the previous category, feel free – though this seemed to be more bad luck than anything else. Either way, the car slipping off the jack may have cost Edwards a win, and certainly cost him a top-five. Tough break.
Brian Vickers' No. 83 team. Qualified for the race, failed inspection, had to go home (and maybe this also belongs in prior category, though the team seemed genuinely stumped as to why the car suddenly was too low). OK, so maybe Friday wasn't a completely good day for Toyota teams, as Red Bull and most of MWR went home early.
By the way …
Truex and Gordon put on a clinic on how to race hard but clean (even with Gordon knowing each turn spent side-by-side with Truex meant less time to chase Hamlin, and Gordon admitted he used up a lot of his car trying to pass Truex). Their late battle for second was an absolute blast – and it also gives ammo to the COT lovers. Gordon's charge at Hamlin – which saw Hamlin get loose and the 24 get into him a little – also was entertaining. Gordon perhaps got a little rough, but fighting for the win (not 15th) on the last corners of the last lap? Can't blame him. Terrific job by Hamlin in holding off Gordon and holding on to his No. 11 Chevy to take the checkers.
Bungee cords. Too funny.
Grading the race
Another example of a mediocre race sporting a fantastic finish to leave a good taste in fans' mouths. This one, for the most part, simply wasn't all that interesting. Sure, some drivers were able to move through the field, and so many different drivers leading chunks of laps does help, but NHIS has provided better action in the past few years than it did Sunday. That said, the finish was almost as dramatic as they come. A pit gamble, a contender charging then fading, another contender battling for second and then trying to chase down the gambler (no, not Kenny Rogers) for the win, only to fall perhaps one corner short – great stuff. The end earned this race a bonus full grade. Grade: B
From the source
Denny Hamlin: "I was driving like a wuss those last few laps trying not to make a mistake."
Jeff Gordon: "Martin raced me exactly how he should have, and I raced him as hard as I could. We raced one another clean. It was a great battle."