Hamlin Second at Sonoma

DennyHamlin

“Just run slower through Turn 11 would be about the only thing I could do differently,” Hamlin said. “Just run slower through there and force him to go on the high side.” (Photo: Getty Images)

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Denny Hamlin finished second in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway despite having the lead heading into the final turn of the final lap of the race.

Hamlin restarted second to Tony Stewart on the final restart of the race on lap 96 and but got passed by fellow Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr. before the field got to Turn 2 of the 11-turn road course. 

“Heck of a battle with all my Toyota teammates,” Hamlin said. “Just lost the handle there at the end a little bit. It cost us the win, but who knows.

Hamlin chased down and passed Truex for second six laps later, and eventually caught and passed Stewart for the lead in Turn 7 on the final lap. The pass surprised Hamlin who wasn’t sure he would have a chance to race Stewart for the win.

“I didn’t even think I’d have an opportunity, honestly,” Hamlin said. “He made one mistake in Turn 7 and allowed us to get closer to him. He made mistakes that allowed me to get there and get position."

Hamlin was able to get out to a small lead but coming to Turn 11, a sharp 90-degree hairpin turn, he locked up his brakes and allowed Stewart to his inside, with Stewart going on to the win.

“I was looking at the rearview more than looking out front,” Hamlin said. “I still got in there with a wheel hop. once he had the inside position, we weren’t going to drag race it out. I knew he was going to put me into the wall.”

“He was doing what he had to do and we did what we had to do in turn. All is fair in love and war.”

Hamlin was quick to decide what he would do differently in the situation after the race.

“Just run slower through Turn 11 would be about the only thing I could do differently,” Hamlin said. “Just run slower through there and force him to go on the high side.”

It’s a bright spot for Hamlin in what’s been an up and down year. After winning the season opening Daytona 500, Hamlin had posted four finishes of 30th or worse through 15 races.

Despite the disappointment, Hamlin was upbeat after scoring just his third top-10 finish in 11 starts at Sonoma and seventh top-10 finish of the season.

“Still a pretty good day. This is definitely a step in the right direction on the road course, but man utterly disappointed.

“It was a great day. Better than what we expected going into it."

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