After three consecutive weeks of disappointing results that ended their playoff hopes, Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 team finally had a solid day at Dover International Speedway.
Not just solid, but one where Hamlin was in contention for the victory on an overtime restart. But Hamlin couldn’t mount a challenge on Chase Elliott, even though the Hendrick Motorsports driver was on older tires. And as he lined up against Elliott, whom Hamlin spun from the lead last fall at Martinsville in an incident that upset Elliott and fans alike, Hamlin was plenty aware of recent history on the last restart.
“After last fall, I was really making sure I didn’t make any contact, to be honest with you,” Hamlin said.
Hamlin admitted he didn’t think he would get to Elliott on the final restart. That Elliott ran away on old tires with a last-lap speed of 23.60s, while Hamlin ran a 23.70, was “amazing,” Hamlin recounted.
The runner-up effort was Hamlin’s eighth top-five finish of the season and the second in the last month. He had previously not had a top-five finish since Charlotte in May.
Sunday afternoon Hamlin had a quiet day where he continually moved through the field. Hamlin earned stage points in Stage 2 and took two tires on his final pit stop under the caution with eight laps left to gain track position.
Hamlin them missed the multi-car wreck that set up overtime to restart and finish second.
“We had a pretty uneventful race and just kind of kept our nose clean and did everything we needed to do to get a good finish,” Hamlin said. “I thought that there towards the end — really the last 11 laps, we had probably anywhere from a fifth to seventh-place car, and we took advantage there on that last stop to take two tires. That put us in the outside line, got a good restart, and then they wrecked behind us, and that put us on the front row.
“Really just a great execution day. Didn’t make any mistakes, just chipped away at it. We worked our way in the top 10 by the end of Stage 2 and then just got to like eighth, then seventh, then sixth, and just kept getting a little bit better throughout the day, and other guys were starting to falter, or their cars were fading, and we took advantage.”