Speeding, miscommunication, lug nut issues — they all can take a driver out of contention for a win. There’s a saying that goes something like, “Races are won and lost on pit road.” That was definitely the case for two Joe Gibbs Racing drivers, specifically Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, in the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday.
Instead, Hendrick Motorsports driver Kasey Kahne went to victory lane to celebrate his second win of the year and his first victory at NHMS.
“We ran in the top-five the whole race, but obviously, Denny had the best car,” Kahne said in victory lane.
Of course, the Hendrick brigade performed well, too, with all four Hendrick cars running in the top-five for most of the race. Through much of the event, Hamlin led the way with Hendrick Chevrolets running second through fifth.
Anyway, back to JGR. Busch started from the pole and led the first 66 laps until he headed down pit road during a cycle of green-flag pit stops. First, his crew had an issue with lug nuts on the right front, and then the driver made things worse by speeding on pit road.
As far as running up front, his teammate Hamlin took over where he left off. Hamlin led most of the remainder of the race, as Busch worked his way back toward the front. Busch took fuel only during the first caution of the race that came out on lap 89 to move into the top-10 and then stayed out during a caution just before lap 200 of the 301-lap race to restart in the lead. As soon as the race restarted, he lost that lead to Hamlin.
That wasn’t the end of Busch’s pit woes, though. He overshot his pit stall on a green-flag stop on lap 232, taking himself out of contention for good. He wound up finishing outside the top-10.
Meanwhile, things looked good for Hamlin. That is, until miscommunication between the driver and his crew chief, Darian Grubb, during the third and final caution of the race. Most teams opted to change two tires. Grubb, himself, thought two would be a good idea, but he thought Hamlin wanted four. So Hamlin’s team put on four tires, shuffling the No. 11 back to 14th for the restart.
“It was just a miscommunication,” Hamlin said.
Hamlin did have a fast enough car to work his way back toward the front. As a matter-of-fact, he worked his way back up to second, but he ran out of time and laps to catch Kahne. Instead, the driver who dominated the race was forced to settle for second.
“We still had a shot at a win,” Hamlin said. “I just didn’t get past all those cars fast enough.”
Clint Bowyer finished third, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. was fourth to give Hendrick Motorsports two cars in the top-five at the end. Brad Keselowski finished fifth.
Sixth through 10th were Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle and Ryan Newman.