March 31, 2019 / 11:09 PM / 6 months ago

Hamlin overcomes penalties to win in Texas

EditorsNote: updates with quotes throughout

Mar 31, 2019; Fort Worth, TX, USA; A general view of the fans and pit road and the infield and the grandstands before the start of the O'Reily Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Denny Hamlin twice was slammed with pit-road penalties during Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race. Didn’t matter. Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing team worked their way back from those penalties and went on to win at Texas Motor Speedway.

The victory was the second of the season for Hamlin after having gone winless for the entirety of the 2018 season. His other win this year came in the season-opening Daytona 500.

“A fast car,” Hamlin said when asked how he overcame the two penalties — one for speeding on pit road and the other as a result of a crew member mistake. “They gave me a car that was fast enough that I could pass anybody in the field.”

The victory was the 33rd of Hamlin’s Cup career and his third at the Texas track.

Clint Bowyer of Stewart-Haas Racing finished second — 2.7 seconds back. Teammate Daniel Suarez was third.

“It took a while for our Mustang to get good,” said Bowyer, who posted his first podium finish of the season. “This car ... was off, to be honest with you, all weekend long. I was pretty nervous coming into the race. Mike (Bugarewicz, his crew chief) made some good adjustments.”

Rounding out the top five were Erik Jones of Joe Gibbs Racing and Jimmie Johnson of Hendrick Motorsports.

Kyle Busch appeared to be headed for the third three-race sweep weekend of his career as he was leading with 59 laps to go when he lost control of his car, swiped the wall was forced to pit. He fell off the lead lap as a result and hopes of sweeping were swept aside. Busch finished 10th, 11.6 seconds back.

“It just busted loose on me and I had to catch it and make sure we didn’t crash,” Busch said. “The looseness was still there and then I had to chase it on exit of (Turn) 2 behind the 10 (Aric Almirola) and just knocked the fence down.”

For three days in Fort Worth, it appeared Johnson’s year-long travails would end as his car was fast in all practices on Friday and Saturday and then in qualifying. The seven-time Texas champion started from the pole in a Cup race for the first time since the 19th race of the 2016 season, and led the first 60 laps, which is the most he’s led in a race since he headed the field for 81 laps at Bristol in the spring of 2017. He faded once out of the lead but came back to nab his first top-five finish of the year.

“It’s great to be back in the mix,” Johnson said. “It’s where this team deserves to be. I hope everybody at Hendrick Motorsports is smiling big right now. ... It’s a big step for us.”

—Field Level Media

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