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Hamlin Ends Winless Streak With Win In New Hampshire

Special to The Courant

Last September, Denny Hamlin arrived at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the second race of NASCAR's Monster Energy Cup Series Chase for the Championship playoffs riding a momentum high.

He was two weeks removed from victory at Richmond International Raceway and coming off a sixth place finish in the opening event of the Chase.

Fast forward 10 months and it was a far different state of mind for Hamlin upon his return to Loudon this weekend.

With eight races remaining before the start of the 10-race Chase for the Championship, Hamlin came into the Overton's 301 weekend at New Hampshire still looking to lock up a spot in the 16-driver field, riding a 28-race winless streak dating to the victory at Richmond last fall.

Hamlin left Loudon putting any stress, at least concerning the playoffs deep, in the rearview as he

rolled to victory.

But even with the victory, Hamlin wasn't exactly breathing a sigh of relief that his Joe Gibbs Racing team has turned around its struggles this season.

It was the first victory of the season for Hamlin, the third of his career in Loudon and 30th overall in the Monster Energy Cup Series. Hamlin won cup series events in Loudon in 2007 and 2012.

"I'm not going to think that it fixed everything," Hamlin said. "I still think that we have some work to do to be guys that contend for a win every single week. We're getting there. We really, really are getting there. But we still have some work to do. Today was just a bonus."

Kyle Larson was second and Martin Truex Jr. third.

The position in the playoffs did bring some comfort to Hamlin's crew chief, Long Island native Mike Wheeler, who climbed the ranks as a crew chief in Modified racing.

"Big sigh of relief," Wheeler said. "We've been working our butts off all year long. … We weren't the fastest car all race long … but we were in contention all day and made it happen."

Said team owner Joe Gibbs: "Last year we had a great year and this year we've just been off some. I did feel like in the last five, six weeks we've kind of worked our way back to having good speed, but haven't been able to make it happen for us at the end of races. I think it says that you've got to have a lot of respect for our sport. There's a lot of great teams out there."

Hamlin brought some levity to the post-race celebration when it came to New Hampshire Motor Speedway's signature trophy. Cup series winners are awarded an oversized lobster for winning. Hamlin took a pass on the 22-pound prize handed to him in victory lane. 

"I cannot eat dinner if someone beside me is eating lobster," Hamlin said. "I can't look at it. … Put it back in the water and let it live."

Hamlin led 54 of 301 laps in Loudon Sunday. He passed teammate Matt Kenseth for the lead on lap 268 and never trailed again.

Middletown, Conn., native Joey Logano's hopes at making the playoffs took another hit at what he considers his home track. Mechanical issues plagued Logano Sunday and he finished 269 laps on the way to a 37th place finish in the 39-car field.

"We just broke, plain and simple," Logano said. "It is not good at all. Right now we are in the position where we have to execute. We have to finish the best as possible and we didn't do that today. We have to go back to work and make sure our cars stay together and we have to get faster. … It was a humbling day. This race team knows how to do this. All of Team Penske knows how to win races and make cars fast."  

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