Denny Hamlin still hasn’t won at Dover International Speedway, but he’s now dominated there.
Hamlin, on the pole for his 500th Cup Series start, set a torrid pace through the first half of Sunday’s Drydene 400. In addition to winning Stage 1, Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota led 218 of the first 230 laps as, aside from green flag pit stops, he mostly went unchallenged for the top spot.
But losing the lead late in Stage 2 started his downfall. Caught behind lapped traffic that included reigning series champion Joey Logano who was 20 laps behind after starting from the garage area, Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. took the top spot with 11 laps to go in the stage, and went on to score the victory.
Off pit road in second place at the stage break, Hamlin lined up on the inside of Kyle Larson for the restart. Larson launched quickly and drove away; soon after, Hamlin was sharing concerns about his engine, concerned that he wouldn’t make it to the checkered flag.
“I missed a shift on the last restart,” he admitted after fading to a fifth-place finish. “The car changed tones and lost a little power…I was concerned that we weren’t going to make it.”
Hamlin never led again after losing the lead to Truex. And he wasn’t happy with how he lost the lead because of the role he felt Logano played.
“I thought the 22 (Logano) was trying to stay on the lead lap, but they said he was 24 laps down. He was kind of air-blocking us, and we lost the lead, and we lost that stage,” said Hamlin. “Then after that, we lost control of the race, and the track got tighter. There were no cautions to pick up the rubber. We just got tight.
“Once we lost control, lost the clean air, it was just so difficult to pass. I needed to be up front as tight as my car was; so I just lost the lead and backpedaled from there.
“But top five, this track, I’ll take it every week.”
In 28 Dover starts, Hamlin now has 12 top-10 and five top-five finishes with 494 laps led. Sunday, in leading the most laps of any driver, it was also the most laps Hamlin has led in a single Dover race.
Hamlin is 48 points above the playoff cutline going into Talladega, and before the Dover race, his 500th start was saluted: