Cheez-It 355

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Denny Hamlin receives Daytona 500 trophy with wrong year inscribed

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Everybody has their name misspelled or botched in a public forum at least once. Even NASCAR drivers.

That’s what Denny Hamlin discovered Monday when he opened USA Today to find someone else had won Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen International.

Will Denny Hamilton please stand up?

While someone might have had the Lin-Manuel Miranda Broadway musical on their mind at an unfortunate time, it was fixed for a later edition of the national paper.

But the hits kept on coming for Hamlin on Tuesday.

The winner of this year’s Daytona 500 has finally received his version of The Harley J. Earl Trophy that’s given out each year to the victor of the “Great American Race.”

However, the trophy was mislabelled to identify Hamlin as the winner of the 2015 Daytona 500.

That race was won by Joey Logano.

At this rate it will be a very long off-week for Hamlin, who returns to the track with the rest of the Sprint Cup Series on Aug. 20 for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

MORE: Back pain doesn’t keep Denny Hamlin from victory lane

Denny Hamlin back in Sprint Cup victory lane despite back problems

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For crew chief Mike Wheeler, Sunday morning of the Sprint Cup race at Waktins Glen International began with news, the kind that’s “not something you really want to hear.”

A text message from his driver Denny Hamlin said Hamlin “was in trouble.”

The Daytona 500 winner had just woken up and something wasn’t right with his back. Hamin recognized the feeling, despite not having major problems with his back “in the past four to five years.”

“I don’t know what causes it,” Hamlin said Sunday after winning his second race of the year, diagnosing it as potentially sleeping in a bad position or due to race travel disrupting his exercise regimen.  “It just happens every now and then. It’s never happened on a race day, for sure.”

The Cheez-It 355 was scheduled to start at 2:49 p.m. ET. Hamlin had to endure a lot of pain before he could even climb into his No. 11 Toyota, which was sixth on the starting grid.

“We worked on it all day to try to make it better. We really didn’t make it much better,” said Hamlin. “If it was Friday or Saturday, no question I wouldn’t have turned one lap today. It was by far the worst conditions I’ve ever had to drive in, over the knees, anything else. This was by far the worst pain‑wise I’ve had to go through.”

This was coming from the driver who won at Texas Motor Speedway in April 2010 three weeks after undergoing surgery to repair ligaments in his left knee. Hamlin is the driver that raced through the entire Chase for the Sprint Cup in 2015 – including winning the opener at Chicagoland – after tearing his other ACL two weeks before its start and putting off surgery until the offseason.

In April 2015, Hamlin was even replaced by Erik Jones following a lengthy rain delay at Bristol Motor Speedway after pulling something in his neck, the pain from which “was bothering me quite a bit” Hamlin said.

On Sunday, Hamlin’s back was bothering him so much, he couldn’t even sit during the driver-crew chief meeting that began at 12:30 p.m. ET, about two hours before the race – which was 90 laps and 220.9 miles long – began.

Wheeler, in his first season as Hamlin’s Sprint Cup crew chief after years of working together, sat next to his driver.

“You could just tell he was in pain. Nothing you could do today to fix it,” Wheeler said. “He’s had this happen before years ago. But he knows the situation he was in and he knows he’s got to tough it out, and he did.”

When it comes to race length, you can’t factor in the unpredictability of wrecks or their severity. Twice the race was red-flagged, the first for 13 minutes and 19 seconds and the second, with five laps remaining, lasted for just under 17 minutes.

That was 17 minutes extra minutes of stewing in pain for Hamlin, who also happened to be in the lead after claiming it on a Lap 81 restart when Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski overshot Turn 1.

With Martin Truex Jr. and Keselowski behind him, Hamlin was in the best – albeit the most uncomfortable – position he’d ever been in to win a road course race in his 12-year career.

“Trust me, I’m sitting there, even though I’m joyed that we’re leading the race, I was thinking under the red flag, ‘Let’s get this over with so I can get out of this car,'” Hamlin admitted.

After two hours, 27 minutes and 48 seconds, Hamlin finally got out of his car, but he did so very slowly. The smoke from Hamlin’s celebratory burnout that ravaged his tires was still in the air and his teammates were running down pit road to celebrate. Hamlin slowly crept to the pit wall.

Unlike the smoke, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver couldn’t linger. He was needed elsewhere to celebrate his 28th Sprint Cup win, which redeemed his last turn mistake at Sonoma Raceway in June that gave Tony Stewart his 49th win.

On a bad back and with his car temporarily immobile on bad tires, Hamlin trudged into Victory Lane like a runner bringing up the tail end of a marathon.

“Honestly it’s more validating because I feel so awful,” Hamlin said. “There were many corners that I under‑drove just because my feel wasn’t as good today in the race car. That’s how we feel the edge is through our back side. When our back side is not healthy, it’s tough. That’s what made it extra special, is that when it was game time, when it was go time, we got it done.”

Chase grid: Denny Hamlin vaults up standings, Kyle Larson on edge of top 16

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With his win in the Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International, Denny Hamlin became the sixth Sprint Cup driver to win multiple races in 2015. He jumped six spots on the latest Chase grid to fourth.

Losing spots were Jimmie Johnson and Austin Dillon, who each dropped two spots after being involved in a multi-car wreck Sunday that led to Johnson finishing last.

Luckily, Johnson is already locked into the Chase. Dillon is 14th on the grid and has yet to win this season.

Chris Buescher, who won last week at Pocono Raceway, is still not on the grid. After finishing 33rd due to being in a late wreck and being forced to go to the garage, Buescher is still three points out the top 30 in points. A driver must have a win and be in the top 30 to automatically qualify for the Chase.

AJ Allmendinger re-entered the top 20 after finishing fourth Sunday. He is now 34 points behind the cutoff spot of 16th. In 16th is Kyle Larson. Larson is teetering on the edge of the top 16, only eight points up on 17th, after Allmendinger wrecked him on the final lap of Sunday’s race, sending Larson to a 29th-place finish instead of a top five.

 

NSCS Chase Standings - Race 22 (Watkins Glen)-page-001

AJ Allmendinger not happy with fourth place after spinning Kyle Larson on last lap

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AJ Allmendinger made a mistake and owned up to it.

The mistake was making contact with and sending Kyle Larson nose-first into the wall near the pit entrance at Watkins Glen International as the checkered flag waved in the Cheez-It 355.

Allmendinger streaked by Larson and the spinning car of Martin Truex Jr. to a fourth-place finish, his second top five of the season. Larson finished 29th.

Allmendinger, the 2014 winner at WGI, had hoped to win again to qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup but was anything but happy with himself on pit road.

“I can’t say sorry enough,” Allmendinger said. “It doesn’t help the case, I spun him out. I didn’t mean to spin him out. ”

Allmendinger saw Martin Truex Jr. being spun by Brad Keselowski as they exited Turn 7, and dove to Larson’s right hoping to initiate a “drag race” to the checkered flag.

“(Larson) was turning to come back down, but it was my fault,” Allmendinger said. “I tried to cut under him off of the last corner and the No. 78 was coming back across the race track. I was under him. He turned and I just clipped him.”

Larson has been in position earn his fifth top-five finish of the season before his No. 42 Chevrolet wound up crumpled on pit road.

“(Allmendinger) is always aggressive,” Larson said. “I figured he would be smart. Obviously, (Truex Jr.) was spinning in front of us. That is a free spot for both of us and just dumped me. He had already ran me down to the front stretch wall once with about 15 to go or so. Pretty dumb move right there too, but I was the smarter one racing for points, lifted, could have wrecked him, but didn’t. I don’t know. He wrecked me earlier in the year at Vegas. He has ran me hard, but we always race pretty well, but today was flat out stupid.”

But Allmendinger continued to beat himself up over the incident, which resulted in Larson limping across the start-finish line via pit road to avoid his third DNF of the season.

“I’m just not very happy with myself on that,” Allmendinger said. “I don’t want to do that, especially for fourth place. And he did a great job. It’s on me. I never meant to do it. It’s not going to help the case. I know he’s going to be pissed off and he should be pissed off. I’d be.”

Larson started the race in second and Allmendinger in ninth. Larson had drifted back in the pack throughout the race while Allmendinger had fought his No. 47 Chevrolet back from a speeding penalty on Lap 26.

“I fought hard to get back and restarts, I was aggressive, but I was going to be okay with that,” Allmendinger said. “I don’t want to race like that. If we’re going for the win, it’s all good. But not like that. I just cost Kyle a good finish. I’m just pissed off at myself.”

Neither Larson and Allmendinger have qualified for the Chase and now Larson is 15th in the point standings, eight points up from the cutoff. Allmendinger is 19th in the standings, 26 points behind Trevor Bayne in 16th. Allmendinger has only four races left to win or earn his way into the Chase via points.

Keselowski, Truex go from banging fenders to ‘it’s all good’

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Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. got together on the final lap of Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International.

They were both fighting for second place and Keselowski wound up spinning Truex, relegating him to an eighth-place showing. Keselowski, meanwhile, motored on to a third-place finish behind Penske teammate Joey Logano and winner Denny Hamlin.

But things didn’t end there. After they both exchanged hand gestures on the cool down lap, Truex banged fenders with Keselowski a couple of times before both parked their cars on pit road.

For as much animosity was shown on the track, it was forgotten just as quickly. As soon as Keselowski climbed out of his race car, he made a beeline to Truex’s car.

Just like that, bygones became bygones.

Here’s the extent of their conversation.

Keselowski: “It’s my fault.”

Truex: “I know it was. It’s all good.”

And that was it, over as quickly as it began.

But later, Truex seemed to still have a little bit of animosity left in him despite Keselowski’s apology.

“Hell no, it don’t help, because you’re like, ‘well, that’s awesome. Thanks for saying you’re sorry, but what do I get out of it?’ You know what I mean?'” Truex said. “That’s just racing.

“It’s like yesterday in qualifying, you know. A guy pulls out in front of you, he says I’m sorry. Well, no s— you’re sorry, but you gotta damn stop doing stupid stuff, you know what I mean? I don’t run over people all the time. I don’t pull out in front of people in qualifying. So race me like I race you is all I ask.”

In addition to the above video, here’s a few tweets from both Keselowski and Truex’s crew chief, Cole Pearn, who decided not to blast Keselowski for the incident.