» HAM­LIN ENDS GIBBS’ WIN­LESS STREAK

Lodi News-Sentinel - - Sports - By Dan Gel­ston

LOUDON, N.H. — Joe Gibbs Rac­ing has un­der­gone an un­ex­pected up­heaval that forced the or­ga­ni­za­tion into a youth move­ment.

The big­gest sur­prise, though, was go­ing 0 for 2017.

Denny Ham­lin ended that rut with the kind of fin­ish down the stretch that showed that — yes, the new gen­er­a­tion may be on the way — but the JGR lynch­pin still knows how to win.

Ham­lin held off Kyle Lar­son over the fi­nal laps Sun­day at New Hamp­shire Mo­tor Speed­way to send Gibbs to its first vic­tory of the sea­son.

One of the top or­ga­ni­za­tions in NASCAR, JGR had yet to have any of its four driv­ers win un­til Ham­lin took the lead with 33 laps left and held off the hard-charg­ing Lar­son on the fi­nal lap.

Ham­lin needed his 30th ca­reer Cup vic­tory to se­cure a berth in NASCAR’s ver­sion of the post­sea­son and end a win­less streak that stretched to last Septem­ber at Rich­mond.

“Def­i­nitely needed a win for the or­ga­ni­za­tion, for my­self,” Ham­lin said.

He’ll take the check­ered flag — just hold the nut­cracker.

Ham­lin, who has a Cup win in each of his 12 sea­sons, gave ev­ery­one a laugh when he scam­pered away from the lob­ster tra­di­tion­ally awarded to the win­ner in vic­tory lane.

“I have a lob­ster pho­bia,” he said.

Lar­son had a sen­sa­tional run from the rear of the field, where he was forced to start be­cause he failed in­spec­tion af­ter he won the pole. Lar­son lost his points lead last week and his crew chief was sus­pended af­ter fail­ing a post-race in­spec­tion at Ken­tucky.

Ham­lin crashed the No. 11 Toy­ota in prac­tice and was forced to race in a backup car. It seemed to suit him just fine at New Hamp­shire.

Martin Truex Jr., was third, fol­lowed by Matt Kenseth and Kevin Har­vick.

JGR won seven of the first 12 races last sea­son and Carl Ed­wards was 10 laps away from a pos­si­ble cham­pi­onship when he crashed out in the fi­nale. Daniel Suarez re­placed Ed­wards this sea­son, and Ham­lin, Kenseth and Kyle Busch have made strong runs at the check­ered flag, they just couldn’t find the win­ning for­mula un­til New Hamp­shire.

“It’s not from a lack of try­ing,” Ham­lin said.

JGR also an­nounced this week that Erik Jones would re­place two-time Day­tona 500 cham­pion Kenseth in the No. 20 next sea­son. With Ham­lin send­ing the crowd into a frenzy by burn­ing the tires down, Sun­day was sim­ply a rea­son for the or­ga­ni­za­tion to cel­e­brate.

Jones and Suarez will soon be ex­pected to carry the load into the next decade once Busch and the 36-year-old Ham­lin fin­ish their ca­reers.

“They’re go­ing to be there long af­ter I’m gone,” Ham­lin said. “They’ll be the team lead­ers. You just try and set an ex­am­ple for them. Show the work ethic that it takes to be a win­ner on a weekly ba­sis. Hope­fully, that in­fec­tious-type at­mos­phere bleeds into them and they lead the team af­ter we’re gone.”

Lar­son was sec­ond and nearly caught Ham­lin — af­ter a try­ing week where NASCAR caught Lar­son’s Chip Ganassi team try­ing to tin­ker a bit too much out­side the rule book on the No. 42 Chevro­let.

Lar­son’s team was pe­nal­ized 35 points this week, eras­ing what had been a one-point ad­van­tage over Truex in the driver stand­ings. Truex, who led 137 laps, leads the stand­ings by 38 points over Lar­son.

Lar­son’s pole-win­ning time was dis­al­lowed be­cause of an un­ap­proved rear deck fin lid.

“NASCAR’s kept a closer eye on our team, in par­tic­u­lar,” Lar­son said. “Had to go to the back. I don’t think that re­ally af­fected us which I think is a good thing. The lit­tle stuff we got in trou­ble for so far hasn’t af­fected our per­for­mance. We’ve got to keep work­ing hard on the ar­eas on our race car that are le­gal and find more speed that way.”

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