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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Eventual winner Denny Hamlin leads the pack race during Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Monday, July 17, 2017 1:00 am

Hamlin gets Gibbs team on the board

DAN GELSTON | Associated Press

Top 5

Finishers

1. Hamlin Toyota

2. Larson Chevrolet

3. Truex Jr Toyota

4. Kenseth Toyota

5. Harvick Ford

Points

1. Truex 758

2. Larson 720

3. Ky. Busch 650

4. Harvick 639

5. Hamlin 589

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.

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.

“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. 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.