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What Drivers Said after the Daytona 500

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Sunday’s Daytona 500 was the final restrictor plate race in NASCAR history — and with three wrecks in the final 17 laps that helped determine the race’s outcome — drivers were their typical, aggressive selves as things came down to the finish line and Denny Hamlin took the win.

Here’s what drivers had to say after the race at Daytona International Speedway:

Denny Hamlin, winner: “This is amazing. I don’t want to tear this one up because I want to put it back in my house. I’m just going to enjoy it more (than his 2016 Daytona 500 win). I think I was so dumbfounded about everything that happened the first time with the photo finish and everything. This one lets me soak it in a little bit more. I’m going to have a terrible hangover tomorrow, but I’m going to enjoy it the rest of my life. … Proud of not only our team, but (teammate Kyle Busch’s) team as well and having a great shot at the Daytona 500. I know this was as close as he came. He was a great teammate all day and we worked well together.”

Kyle Busch, finished 2nd:I just was trying to work on a run with the 11 (Denny Hamlin) and you can never trust those behind you so they all scattered and went around me and I had to work my way back up there. Just wasn’t meant to be today obviously. It’s frustrating for sure. We had a great car. (We were) trying to make sure at least one of us got to victory lane, first and foremost. After that you try to go race it out and see what you can do for yourself and for your team. There wasn’t enough cars out there really. There was six cars running at the end. I don’t know that anything would’ve been any different really if anything would’ve materialized. I think we all would’ve been stuck side-by-side given if I would’ve been on the outside or something like that. It’s so hard to tell. I don’t know how it would’ve played out, but I’m not going to worry about it.”

MORE: Click here for Daytona 500 results, NASCAR Cup point standings

Erik Jones, finished 3rd:It was a weird day. The Sport Clips Camry had a lot of speed in it early and we kept finding ourselves towards the front. We were up there where we wanted to be with Kyle (Busch) and Denny (Hamlin) and I’m like, ‘Man, we’re in a great spot to get to the last 15 laps or so and race for it.’ I don’t know. We just lost fuel pressure and we came to pit road and came back. We didn’t change anything, fired it up and went back. Got back on the lead, got caught up in a wreck and got pretty significant amount of damage and we were just trying to get it fixed enough to get minimum speed. As more of the race happened and more and more people wrecked we found ourselves upfront. A day of never giving up and never giving in and it worked out great. It’s definitely the most perseverance I’ve had in a race in NASCAR. I had a lot of fun.”

Joey Logano, finished 4th: “I actually felt like we had the car to beat and just couldn’t get there. It’s so hard to get to the front. Once I got to the front I felt like we had a really good car, but I had a good push from behind with the 47 (Ryan Preece), which is pretty cool. We’re both from Connecticut and we raced quarter-midgets against each other, so I thought it was really neat to be working together in the Daytona 500. How neat is that? So it shows you that dreams can come true for little kids, so that was pretty cool.”

Michael McDowell, finished 5th: “Yeah, there’s always things you could do differently. We just didn’t have the speed to break the plain of 18 (Kyle Busch) or the 11 (Hamlin). We were trying like heck, but so was everybody else. When the 18 shot to the outside there he had a big run, a lot of momentum and I tried to go with him to hope that the 18 and the 11 would get together and maybe I’d sneak a win out of it. It just didn’t work out. … We would have loved to pull into Victory Lane, but a top five is great.”

Ty Dillon, finished 6th: “It feels good. I’m just really proud of our effort. God is good. It wasn’t really me driving this thing. I would leave it up to him to get me through those wrecks and boy that was fun. I had a blast tonight. What a great way to start our year with our GEICO Camaro. I’m really proud to be the top finishing Chevy at the very first race of the year. So that’s a great way to set the tone.”

Kyle Larson, finished 7th: “It was a pretty smooth race there until the very end. I got a tire rub and blew a left-rear and crashed. The second time me and (Ricky) Stenhouse got together and I wrecked. The third time, I got on the brakes really hard and spun and about crashed. My car is super beat up so to come away with a top 10 is pretty cool.”

Ryan Preece, finished 8th: “It’s intense, man. It’s something I’ve never been a part of. So, I have a lot of learning to do, for sure. Today was the type of day that you just wanted to race around these guys and not be erratic and not do anything stupid and hopefully when we go to Talladega or come back to Daytona, I can get a little bit more help.”

Jimmie Johnson, finished 9th:I’ve never been hit like that on pit lane. That was the start of the craziness. I don’t know if that kept us out of trouble and got us a good finish or what, but certainly not something that we were anticipating. That just set off a chain reaction of events from there. There is a lot to manage that last 30 laps from an issue with trying to get the fueler neck in place to fuel the car, which resulted in a penalty. Getting those two laps back, working on the car multiple times, multiple crashes, for a first true race together as a group, a really, really brilliant day.”

Alex Bowman, finished 11th:We were just kind of credited with a finish there. It was a bummer. We had over the wall too soon (penalty) and that put us behind. We got back to second and I kind of poked my nose out there for the lead at the wrong time and got shuffled and we were running third or fourth; and then the No. 20 (Erik Jones) ran out of fuel pressure right in front of us and just kind of buried us. From then on everybody’s brains went out the window and we just started crashing the rest of the night.”

Brad Keselowski, finished 12th: “A lot of wrecks. We got a flat tire. We got in a good spot with about 20 or so to go and I guess the 20 car ran out of fuel or something and the line failed and went all the way to the back. And then we got caught up in two wrecks not of our making and just never can get anything to go our way on these deals. I’m confident when they do we can win them. We don’t have to have good luck, but we can’t have all the bad luck we’ve been having.”

Austin Dillon, finished 16th: “We had a shot, but it is what it is. Daytona is really hard to position yourself to miss those wrecks and we didn’t do a good enough job to position ourselves like we did last year. I wish we could have missed that big one. Maybe if we were in the bottom lane, but I just think it happened so fast you needed to be up front. This has been a great process… it’s not over for us at Daytona we are going to come back and win this thing.”

Chase Elliott, finished 17th: “I didn’t really see much of anything. I think Clint (Bowyer) was just sliding up the track and I was in the outside lane, I really had no other option other than just to hit him. I had a huge run, I just didn’t have anywhere to go with it. We crashed I think four or five times, finally finished us off. It’s crazy what these things come down to and just survival, it’s crazy. The bottom (definitely) was a faster way around and I think once the power in numbers got down there it certainly showed that. I wish we could have just made it to the end.”

Clint Bowyer, finished 20th: “Hey, it is the Daytona 500, I had to go for it. I was a little bit frustrated with the lineup. I know I was ahead of the 22 (Logano) when the caution came out but I guess it went back to the last scoring loop or something. It seemed like the lineup had trouble all night long. This just sucks, man. We had such a good Rush Truck Centers, Mobil 1 Ford Mustang. This is my best foot forward I have ever had here. We had a shot at it and I took it. I had a big run on the 34 (McDowell) and knew that I had to make quick work of him because in the mirror they were going three-wide and losing their minds so you knew that was going to come down on ya. So I decided to lose my mind too.”

William Byron, finished 21st: “We were pushing the No. 22 (Logano), we were in sixth and made a good recovery. We had some damage from the previous wreck. That kind of hurt us a little bit, but we were able to restart sixth after missing the first wreck and the No. 34 (McDowell) just got hooked right or got loose right and slammed me in the door and that hooked me to the left and then I was just part of the meat sandwich after that.”

Jamie McMurray, finished 22nd: “Certainly, a bizarre 500 to have so much green flag racing and then so many wrecks at the end. It’s incredible to me how many times we were able to crash in the last 10 laps. It’s part of it. You were able to get big runs. It seemed like as the sun went down those runs happened more often. When the Daytona 500 is on the line, people are willing to take big risks. They just all waited to the end. … (On this being his last Cup race:) I’m thrilled I made it as long as I did. I made it through two or three wrecks I should have been in and didn’t get torn up. It is just part of it. It is what it is and I’m just thankful I’m safe. This is just one of those places you come to that there are a lot of unknowns and certainly after flipping at Talladega Speedway, racing was a little different in my mind.”

Matt DiBenedetto, finished 28th: “It was just a racing deal (his wreck with Paul Menard). Nothing intentional. I have a great relationship with Paul. I think he was trying to sneak to my outside but wasn’t quite there and when he bumped me it just clipped my right rear and turned me in the wall. Just a racing deal. Nothing we can do about it. We had one hell of a day going. I’ll tell you that. The car was fast and I’m so darn thankful that Toyota, Procore my sponsor, Leavine Family Racing – I don’t know if everyone understands how big of a chance they took on taking me and I will be forever thankful. I have an amazing crew chief with Mike Wheeler and great people around me. We showed what we are here to do so we accomplished a lot. Led the most laps, had a fast race car so I’m thankful for that, but I’m not going to lie I’m pretty heartbroken.”

Paul Menard, finished 29th: “I am not really sure what happened. I hooked the 95 (Matt DiBenedetto). I was trying to get to his outside and he was kind of in the middle and he went to the outside and was going back and forth. The 12 (Blaney) had a big run so I jumped up in front of him and hooked the 95. I am not sure what really happened there. I will take the blame for that one I guess. We had really fast Fords. I sped on pit road and got us behind. We had to play catch-up. We had a shot there at the end though. It was time to go. It is frustrating that we have to put ourselves in that position to race this way. I had a big run with the 12 pushing and barely nicked the 95 and he got sideways. I tried backing off, but wrecked a lot of cars.”

David Ragan, finished 30th: “I just saw someone get turned in front of me a couple of rows. That is a product of speedway racing, pushing and being that aggressive at the end of a race. You have guys blocking and you have guys coming fast. That is just the way it is. Unfortunate that we were in the wrong place at the right time but we were up in the top-10, where we needed to be to try to win the race and sometimes things just don’t fall your way.”

Ryan Blaney, finished 31st: “We were racing the heck out of each other tonight. There wasn’t one bit of single-file racing. I thought it was a good race. It was exciting and it was a lot more intense to drive in tonight than what it has all of speedweeks. That is good. That is what everyone wanted to see. I thought our Mustang was really fast. We had a good run down the back and I think a couple guys were trying to push and got squirely and next thing I know I am in it. That stinks for Menards and Peak. I thought we had a good shot when we won that stage. We will just go on to Atlanta.”

Aric Almirola, finished 32nd: “Last year, taking the white flag with the lead with emotions high and feeling like you have a great shot to win was worse. Tonight we were about 10th or 12th and with 10 laps to go, a lot can play out, a lot can happen. It didn’t feel like we were as close right there. Still disappointing. You never wanna come down here and wreck out of the Daytona 500. You want a shot in the final closing laps. Unfortunately, we weren’t in the right position tonight.”

Daniel Suarez, finished 33rd: “The car was fast.  We were running in the top 10 pretty much the whole day and challenged for the lead.  We gained some stage points. Everything was going very well. I mentioned on the radio many times that one big wreck was going to happen and I wanted to make sure I was going to stay out of it.  With 10 laps to go it’s not like you can just hang out and wait for it. It’s time to go and unfortunately, we just got caught up in someone else’s mistake.”

Daniel Hemric, finished 34th: “You know you get that accordion effect corner entry and I just saw the No. 95 (DiBenedetto) get turned, at that point just kind of a road block. You are trying to make moves, but you are going so fast and everybody is trying to gouge to get to the end of the race and just no where to go. … I thought we would be in good shape there the next to last restart before the crash. We were lined up sixth and we just got hung up pushing a car that had damage and just started dragging the whole top lane back. Unfortunately, we shouldn’t have been there in the first place, but the guy who got crashed was also running in the top five. You never know how it’s going to go, but at the end of the day count our blessings and move on and then go to Atlanta and start racing.”

Martin Truex Jr., finished 35th: “Yeah, we knew (the crash) was going to come, just hemming and hawing over when to go and when not to go. We finally decided to go before that last caution. We got 10 spots or so and were in good shape. Got a couple more on the restart and then all hell broke loose. It’s just Daytona. That’s the way it is. … We just kind of chilled out and tried to take care of our car and everybody did a good job of not wrecking most of the day and so when it was time to go we didn’t have track position and then like I said all hell broke loose and it was right in front of us. Just plate racing. Just the way it goes.”

Matt Tifft, finished 36th: “It was definitely getting crazy on that restart. Everyone knew it was time to go with 10 to go. So you knew it was going to be crazy. We were stuck in the middle, three-wide. I don’t know. I thought I saw the 95 or someone get turned up front and I just couldn’t see after that. I tried to get on the brakes but I couldn’t see anything and we were right in the middle of it. That is about it.”

Chris Buescher, finished 37th: “A lot more eventful than we wanted our (Daytona) 500 to be. … I can’t thank our team enough for the hard work put in over the off season for all our sponsors and for Kroger coming on board and really buying into our program, making this fun. To go out there and have an issue early on and to recover back and we kind of knew where we were at. We were towards the back after that recovery and it wasn’t worth going to the front yet. You knew the wreck was coming, you just expect it to come a lot earlier. With single digits laps to go it’s time to go and you just take that risk. The best I saw two or three rows in front of me all I saw was the No. 95 car sideways and it just piled in from there.”

Bent fenders, first-time winners define start of NBC’s NASCAR schedule

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We’re four races into NBC Sports’ portion of the NASCAR schedule and actor Michael Rooker was right about one thing: things have gotten real.

There have been four Cup races shown on NBC networks and each has delivered a finish – or lightning strike – worth talking about.

Each race has been won by a different driver who also was making their first trip to victory lane this year. Two earned their first career Cup wins.

Here’s a look at the how the second half of the season has unfolded.

June 30, 2019 – Chicagoland Speedway

Alex Bowman finally punched his ticket to victory lane in the Cup Series.

It took 134 series starts, three consecutive runner-up finishes earlier in the year and a lengthy rain delay to begin the race day.

Racing under the lights, Bowman dueled with Kyle Larson over the last eight laps, with the two drivers making contact with six laps to go as Bowman drafted off the left side of Larson’s car.

After he took the checkered flag, Bowman’s victory lane visit was delayed even further when his No. 88 Chevrolet got stuck in the rain-soaked infield.

“I’m the dumb guy that won the race and then got stuck in the mud,” Bowman told NBCSN.

July 7 – Daytona International Speedway

Though there wasn’t a dramatic on-track finish to the final scheduled July Cup race at Daytona, there was a surprise winner.

Justin Haley had to wait a significantly shorter amount of time than Bowman to get his first Cup win, celebrating his in 131 fewer races.

Following a massive crash with 43 laps to go, leader Kurt Busch and a group of other teams elected to pit when NASCAR said they would go back to green in one lap.

Then lightning struck within eight miles of the track.

The field was brought to pit road with 33 laps to go and Haley scored as the leader in Spire Motorsports’ No. 77 Chevrolet, a team and car in their first year of existence.

The race never resumed as NASCAR eventually called the race official.

“I never even saw myself running a Cup race until I got a call a few months ago to do Talladega,” Haley told NBCSN. “It’s just unreal. I don’t know how to feel.”

While Busch had been on the “wrong side of a lightning bolt” he wouldn’t have to wait long for his own celebration.

July 13 – Kentucky Speedway

“Hell yeah! Hell yeah!” bellowed Kurt Busch on the start-finish line after the Quaker State 400.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver had plenty of reasons to be excited.

He’d just triumphed in an overtime finish over his little brother Kyle Busch.

It was the first time Kurt Busch had won in a 1-2 Cup finish against Kyle.

The elder Busch survived making contact with his brother twice on the final lap, including as they exited Turn 4 in the race to the checkered flag.

The victory was Kurt Busch’s first since joining CGR in December and also was the first career win for crew chief Matt McCall in 164 starts. The victory snapped a 64-race winless streak for Ganassi stretching back to the 2017 regular-season finale at Richmond.

July 21 – New Hampshire Motor Speedway

Kevin Harvick is the latest driver to end a lengthy winless streak with dramatic flair.

Sunday saw the Stewart-Haas Racing driver end a 21-race drought after he held off Denny Hamlin over the final 35 laps while racing on older tires.

After Hamlin and other drivers pitted under the final caution, Harvick and two other cars stayed out.

Hamlin wasn’t able to get within striking distance until the last lap. The two veterans slammed sheet metal twice, with Hamlin’s failed bump-and-run in Turn 1 and then Harvick cutting off Hamlin’s path as they exited Turn 4.

“I knew that (Hamlin) was gonna take a shot,” Harvick said. “I would have taken a shot. I stood on the brakes and just tried to keep it straight. I just didn’t want to get him back from the inside and let him have another shot. I wanted to at least be in control of who was gonna have contact in Turn 3 and 4. It was a heck of a finish, closer than what we wanted, but it was our only chance.”

Hamlin was left to re-think the final lap as Harvick celebrated in the background.

Second sucks,” Hamlin told NBCSN.

Up Next: Pocono

Six races remain in the regular season and the next chance for Cup drama will come at Pocono Raceway (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN), the 2.5-mile triangle that the series visited in June.

But the circumstances will be a little bit different. After complaints about the competition in June, the track will apply the PJ1 traction compound to areas in all three turns.

It’s the first time the track has applied the traction agent to its surface.

It will also be the third consecutive race the Cup Series has held on a track treated with it, following Kentucky and New Hampshire.

And we all know how those races ended.

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New Hampshire winners and losers

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WINNERS

Kevin HarvickHe no longer has to answer the question of when is he going to win (same for Stewart-Haas Racing). Now the question is if this will lead to a string of wins for the No. 4 team, which has shown speed but not been able to capitalize on it.

Parity — Kevin Harvick marked the seventh different winner in the last seven Cup races, the longest streak of the season.

Ryan Newman First, he was in a backup car and had to start at the rear on a track where passing is difficult. Then, he had a broken coil wire that sapped his engine’s power with about 100 laps to go. His team recovered and he finished seventh for his fifth top 10 in the last six races. Also, he climbed into a playoff spot.

Matt DiBenedetto His fifth-place finish was his third top-10 result in the last five races. Good progress for Leavine Family Racing.

LOSERS

Jimmie JohnsonBack-to-back 30th-place finishes have dropped the seven-time champion out of a playoff spot. He’s never missed NASCAR’s postseason — and is the only driver who can say that he’s been in the Chase/playoffs every year since its inception in 2004. Will that streak continue? Or will it end this year?

Richard Childress Racing — RCR cars finished 37th (Daniel Hemric) and 32nd (Austin Dillon). Hemric’s day ended after contact from Daniel Suarez. Dillon blew a right front tire early and that damaged his car.

Hendrick Motorsports — Alex Bowman’s team went through two cars before Sunday’s race. William Byron had to go to a backup because of an incident in practice. Mechanical issues caused Jimmie Johnson to finish 30th and Chase Elliott to place 29th. Bowman placed 14th and Byron led the way with a 12th-place finish. The best thing about the weekend for Hendrick Motorsports is it is over.

Kyle Larson — Two crashes within the last 100 laps made for a bad day Sunday.

With an inadvertent but legal deke, Erik Jones rallies for third

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LOUDON, N.H. – With critical points hanging in the balance for a playoff bid, Erik Jones thought he screwed up Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Instead, he inadvertently might have stumbled across a new strategy for keeping opponents guessing on pit stops.

During the final caution with 35 laps remaining, Jones swerved to the right back on the racing surface at the last minute, driving over the pit lane commitment box.

Jones began fuming over the team radio, but he eventually was informed there would be no penalty from NASCAR, which changed its rule governing pit entry over the past two seasons. Drivers with four tires below the boundary must enter the pits; Jones had only his left-sides below.

Two tires below once would have committed a car to the pits at tracks such as New Hampshire and shorter, and that caused some confusion on Twitter (NASCAR senior vice president Steve O’Donnell clarified the call).

But it raises an interesting point: Should every driver who is committed to staying on track fake a move to the pits by rolling over the commitment box as Jones did?

“I don’t think NASCAR would appreciate that very much, and I’m glad we didn’t get a penalty,” Jones said with a smile. “But it’s definitely an interesting situation. I forgot (what) the rules actually said, and I think many people probably were surprised by that.

“So I think you might see some more faking out. I wouldn’t be surprised.”

Crew chief Chris Gayle was sure Jones would escape punishment after he watched the replay and saw the No. 20 Toyota had at least two wheels above the inside boundary.

“I was like, ‘Oh, we’re good,’ because you’ve got to have all four below the box, and he kind of split it,” Gayle said. “I think he didn’t think about it. They say it in the driver’s meeting all the time now, and you’ve got to pay attention, but most everywhere it’s all four below the orange box.”

After restarting in second behind race winner Kevin Harvick, Jones hung on for third behind Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin and punctuated a race in which he overcame contact with two drivers and a speeding penalty.

He started fourth and catapulted into the lead with a two-tire call by Gayle on Lap 48. Jones finished second in the first stage and then made contact with Alex Bowman’s No. 88 Chevrolet while exiting his pit stall on Lap 111. That necessitated another stop dropping him to 28th as the last car on the lead lap.

“We had contact here on pit road (in the 2017 race), and it ended our day, blew a tire on the restart, so we couldn’t risk that,” Jones said. “We couldn’t have a DNF, so coming down to fix it was the right thing to do. We had to make that right and put ourselves back out there, but it was up and down.”

While battling through the field 20 laps later, Jones made contact with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who brought out a Lap 138 yellow by hitting the wall with a flat tire from the damage. Jones incurred a speeding penalty entering the pits during the caution.

But he restarted in 11th and steadily marched forward during the second half. He was in fifth when the yellow flew the last time, allowing Gayle to keep his car on track and restart beside Harvick.

“That was the good thing,” Jones said. “The (car) had enough speed to get back up there and get in contention. I think at the end with some clean air, we could be in (Harvick’s) spot, I think we were just as fast as him there the run before, so we have to keep putting ourselves up there, and eventually it’s going to work out, but a good testament to our team, just the way we came back today.”

With six races remaining in the regular season, he is ranked 14th and is 28 points above the cutoff line after entering New Hampshire in 16th with only a two-point cushion. But when other bubble drivers had trouble Sunday, it made Gayle’s strategy decisions simpler.

“It wasn’t as bad today because you start seeing other guys having problems that we were racing in the points,” Gayle said. “So when they all started having trouble, and we’re at the back, I’m like OK, this makes it a little bit easier. We can just do something and go for the win here at the end.”

Jones seems on the verge of a win after finishing third in four of the past nine starts.

With contract talks at JGR progressing well, the only cloud on the horizon might be Stenhouse, who vowed payback against Jones between and the playoffs.

“I guess go ahead,” Jones said when told of Stenhouse’s threat. “He was racing me really hard and for nothing. We were 200 laps to go in the race, and he had the choice of lifting and letting me go, and he didn’t do it for five laps, and that’s just how it is.

“If you’re going to race hard, you’re going to get raced hard. I didn’t want to have to do it, but sometimes it comes down to it. I like Ricky, but he races really hard. I expect it. If I’m going to race Kevin Harvick at the front of the field like that 10 laps in a row, I’m going to get wrecked. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to keep moving forward and keep giving yourself a good day.”

Denny Hamlin laments ‘stupid decision’ on final lap against Kevin Harvick

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In the aftermath of his runner-up finish to Kevin Harvick on Sunday in New Hampshire, Denny Hamlin was left regretting and praying.

He regretted his “stupid decision” on how to race Harvick on the last lap, which resulted in fenders banging and Harvick’s first win of the year.

That had Hamlin hoping a higher power might give him the win another way.

The tech gods could not be persuaded to intervene.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver wishes he had dealt with Harvick’s No. 4 Ford differently once they took the white flag.

He now knows he’d have been better off doing exactly what Harvick did in this race last year when he performed a bump-and-run on Kyle Busch in Turns 1 and 2 in the closing laps and went on to win.

“My decision was after Turn 1 and I got him out of the groove, ‘I don’t want to be the leader here, I’d rather be the guy behind’ and that was a stupid decision because I should have just went in there and carried him up the race track,” Hamlin said. “That’s just not the way I want to do it. We’re two veteran guys, we know how to race these things clean and let’s just figure it out in the end and he got the best of us.”

Hamlin said he has “lot of respect” for Harvick and “I did the best I could to be as clean as I could.”

Hamlin led 113 laps in a backup car after he crashed in practice on Friday.

“I knew we made it really good yesterday in practice, but once it got out front it was phenomenal and better than expected,” Hamlin said, but he lamented the difficulties of racing in dirty air with not getting to Harvick’s bumper sooner. “He never slipped a tire and I couldn’t quite get to him until he made that one little lane choice mistake coming to the white (flag) passing a lapped car and taking the bottom, I knew that was our opportunity to get a huge run and we did.”