Three weeks ago, pit strategy lost Denny Hamlin a rain shortened race at Pocono. Late in the race, it appeared Hamlin was going to be disappointed again this week. But a bold call by crew chief, Mike Ford won the race for the number 11 team at Loudon.
On the fifth of six cautions, Hamlin came to pit road and took only two tires while most of his competitors took four. Hamlin came out of the pits ahead of Martin Truex Jr, who had been leading before the yellow came out, and remained there for 45 laps, edging out Jeff Gordon for the win.
"I don't know that it gets more aggressive than what we did [Sunday]," Hamlin's crew chief, Mike Ford said. "But that was our only shot, and it did work out. It was surprising, but it did work out.
We've got to the point where, with 10 to go [until the Chase] we feel we're comfortable inside [those qualified for the Chase] and when an opportunity comes up, we can be aggressive."
On his two fresh Goodyear Eagles, Hamlin was the class of the field for the closing laps of the race.
"I wasn't exactly feeling good about the four tires [on Truex's car] right behind us," Hamlin said. "But I tell you, I thought I could hold him off for maybe five laps and salvage a good finish after that, but our car just took off."
Gordon worked his way up to third but had a tough time getting around the 1 car of Truex. By the time he did, Hamlin's lead was just big enough to edge out the win. Not even a bump and run attempt by Gordon would deny Hamlin the victory.
"Martin and I had a great battle there at the end," Gordon said. "I think that definitely used up our stuff a little bit. So when I got into second, it just took me a little while to get the rhythm and to cool things down before I could start getting after Denny."
Chevrolets swept the top 8 in the finishing order. Among them was Jeff Green, who finished a very impressive 6th. The first non-Chevy finisher was Matt Kenseth. He brought his Ford across the line 9th. Ryan Newman came home 10th in his Dodge.
Coming into today, Hamlin was in second place in points but he was only 438 points clear of 13th place. After today, he is 365 points clear of third place, Kenseth.