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Denny Hamlin had to overcome major back pain to win at the Glen
Posted by: ASkyler on Aug 08, 2016 - 06:25 PM
Feature Articles
Denny Hamlin had to overcome major back pain to win at the Glen

By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. - As his crew chief, Mike Wheeler, put it after Sundayís Cheez-It 355 at the Glen, Denny Hamlin wouldnít have driven his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota if the schedule simply called for a practice session.

But since Sunday was a race day, Hamlin was in the car, overcoming persistent pain to win his first road course event at the 2.45-mile Watkins Glen International track.

Hamlin, who has had disc problems exacerbated by a hard wreck at Auto Club Speedway (Fontana, Calif.) in 2013, had no explanation for the onset of the back pain on Sunday morning. He woke up, and it was there.

"I don't know what causes it," Hamlin said. "It just happens every now and then. It's never happened on a race day, for sure. Usually I'm in the car, and things get looser as the weekend goes onÖ But just today, you know, slept wrong - something. Woke up and knew I was in pretty big trouble. We worked on it all day to try to make it better. We really didn't make it much better.

"No doubt, 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 (Hamlin has had surgery on both), anything else. This was by far the worst pain wise I've had to go through."

It didnít help that the race had two stoppages for a total of 30 minutes. As Hamlin sat in his motionless No. 11 Toyota, he suffered.

"It didn't get any better throughout the day," Hamlin said. "Trust me, I'm sitting there, even though I'm joyed that we're leading the race, I was thinking under the red flag, ĎLet's get this over with so I can get out of this car.í

"I don't know why it did it today. But I'll just continue to go to work on it and try to get in the gym and try to make things a little bit better overall. Iíve missed my routine because I've had to travel over the last few weeks. I kind of got off-sequence of my routine that's helped my back.

"It will go away. By Tuesday I'll be back fine again. It's just a pain right now."

Taking the checkered flag, however, was enough of a tonic to get Hamlin through a lengthy burnout to celebrate the win.


Chris Buescher, last weekís unexpected winner at Pocono Raceway, made up half of the six-point deficit that stood between the driver of the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford and a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Collected in a Lap 84 wreck near the exit from the Inner Loop at Watkins Glen, Buescher finished 30th on Sunday and gained three points on David Ragan, who is 30th in the series standings. With a win in hand, Buescher must finish in the top 30 in the standings at the end of the 26-race regular season to be eligible to compete in the Chase.

In the aftermath of the wreck, Buescher wanted to stay in his car, which had nosed into the outside barrier, but he couldnít keep the Ford in reverse. Finally, as NASCAR red-flagged the race for nearly 17 minutes, Buescher exited the car and made a trip to the infield care center while the car was towed to the garage.

"From where I was, we barely caught the wall on the inside," Buescher said of the wreck. "Basically, the splitter hooked up in the mud. I know when I ran off course, trying to avoid the 4 (Kevin Harvick), it swung all kinds of grass over the car. I knew what the issue was. I was just trying to get them (track workers) to push.

"We were sitting downhill. Splitter is caked up under mud. Actually broke it loose. It was pretty packed. My hope was that we could be pushed backwards (so he wouldnít have to leave the car). They don't have any straps or anything to be able to hook to the back. Basically, they're depending on being able to push the back bumper to get you moving. We didn't have that opportunity.

"I get it. I mean, I get why they made me get out. I was just really frustrated and tried really hard to stay in it so we could keep rolling without losing any spots."

As it turned out, after NASCAR withdrew the red flag, Buescherís crew repaired the car to the point where he could return to the race track, and Buescher gained two positions - and two points - he otherwise would not have had.


If it hadnít been for the final corner of the final lap on Sunday at Watkins Glen, AJ Allmendinger would have enjoyed a proud moment, battling back from an early pit road speeding penalty for a top-five finish.

But the afternoon ended on a sour note when a tap from Allmendingerís Chevrolet sent Kyle Larsonís Chevrolet spinning into the inside barrier as the drivers were battling in Turn 7 on the last lap. Allmendinger finished fourth, but Larson dropped to 29th, with his Chase hopes taking a serious blow.

"I turned him - not on purpose," a rueful Allmendinger said after the race. "The No. 78 (Martin Truex Jr.) started to spin, and Kyle and I were racing for fifth there. He defended on the inside, which he should have. And 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.

"Iím just not very happy with myself on that. I donít want to do that, especially for fourth place. And he did a great job. Itís on me. I never meant to do it. Itís not going to help the case. I know heís going to be pissed off, and he should be pissed off. Iíd be. I definitely cost us a chance to win this race (with the speeding penalty). I tried to give everything I had to get it back. I was going to be pretty happy with the drive back - until I did that in the last corner."

As Allmendinger predicted, the accident didnít sit well with Larson.

"We were about a 10th-place car, and we were going to get a top-five day out of it," Larson said. "We were running sixth coming to (Turn) 7; the No. 47 was behind me. He is always aggressive. I figured he would be smart. Obviously, the No. 78 was spinning in front of us. That is a free spot for both of us, and (he) just dumped me. He had already ran me down to the front stretch wall once with about 15 (laps) 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 didnít. I donít know. I donít 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. I love his crew chief (Randall Burnett) to death; he was our engineer last year. It just sucks they are going to have to start building some more race cars because heís got a few coming."


During the driver meetings prior to Sundayís Cheez-It 355, Watkins Glen International President Michael Printup announced a grandstand sellout for the second consecutive season.

"This is a great testament to the passion and dedication our fans have for Watkins Glen International," Printup said. "Weíre looking forward to a great race and delivering an incredible experience that keeps our fans coming back year after year."

In addition, the track also announced plans for a new viewing deck outside the Esses (turns 2-4) in 2017.

Joe Gibbs, owner of the winning No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, acknowledged the massive turnout during a post-race interview session with reporters.

"First of all, it's great to be able to come to New York and Watkins Glen and race," Gibbs said. "I want to say congratulations to everybody here. What impressed me a lot was that crowd. To have a sell-out crowd here is huge for our sport. It's big for all of our sponsors. We had a number of them here with us this weekend."

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