Hamlin Spins And Wins

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LONG POND, Pa. - For the second straight year, a driver who never saw Pocono Raceway until the first practice session of the weekend went to victory lane.

Last season, Carl Edwards turned the trick.

On Sunday it was Denny Hamlin's turn.

And he did it in dramatic fashion.

Hamlin bounced back from a blown tire midway through the race and a wild spin to score his first career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series win in Sunday's Pocono 500 at Pocono Raceway.

After starting from the pole, Hamlin led 49 of the first 50 laps around the 2.5-mile triangular track. But while enjoying a comfortable lead, it looked as if disaster would strike down the rookie's dream.

A blown right rear tire sent Hamlin's Joe Gibbs Racing FedEx Chevrolet into a wild spin down the backstretch. Fortunately Hamlin was able to keep the car off the wall and make it back to pit road with minimal damage.

"I knew there was substantial damage to the car," Hamlin said. "I pretty much thought our hopes were down the drain because after we got back on the race track, it just felt aero unstable. It disrupted the car quite a bit and it didn’t feel as fast as it was."

After a multitude of stops for his crew to make repairs and adjustments to the car, Hamlin finally worked his way into the lead pack.

He held off Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart for the win.

"The whole crew did a great job putting the car back together," a jubilant Hamlin said in victory lane.

Hamlin joined Edwards and Richard Petty as the only drivers to win their first NEXTEL Cup start at Pocono.

"We're trying to get into the Chase and this is a great way to do it," said Hamlin, who would be the first rookie to make the post-season championship in its three-year history.

Stewart turned in an impressive run to finish third while still nursing his broken right shoulder blade. He didn't have a relief driver standing by as he did last weekend at Dover with Ricky Rudd.

"I feel like I could run another 500-mile race right now and still feel the same," he said.

The finish moved Stewart up to fourth in the series standings.

"I think this will be the last time we'll talk about this shoulder," Stewart said. "We're back and ready to go."

Brian Vickers and Matt Kenseth rounded out the Top 5.

Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne, Scott Riggs, Jeff Burton and Jimmie Johnson completed the first ten finishers.

The race was red-flagged with nine laps to go for Jeff Gordon's scary crash into the turn one wall.

The brakes went out on Gordon's DuPont Chevrolet, sending him spinning through the infield grass and into the outside wall at nearly 200 mph.

"That was one of the hardest hits I've ever taken," Gordon said. "One of the worst things you can ever ask for is the brakes to go out in turn one of Pocono."

Johnson's lead in the standings shrunk down to 48 over Kenseth with Mark Martin, Stewart and Kahne rounding out the Top 5.

The NEXTEL Cup Series now heads to Michigan International Speedway for next Sunday's 3M Performance 400.

        

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