LOUDON, N.H. - Jimmie Johnson is the new points leader in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, but Denny Hamlin is back as a major threat.
Hamlin dominated Sunday's Sylvania 300, the second race in the Chase, to score his fifth win of the season. Johnson finished second to Hamlin but jumped in front of Brad Keselowski to claim the points lead and continue his quest for a sixth national championship.
Entering the third race in the Chase next week at Dover, Del., Johnson has a one-point lead over Keselowski and a seven-point edge over Hamlin.
Hamlin seemed like he was a calendar page in front of the rest of the field Sunday. He led 193 of the 300 laps and was never seriously challenged for first after he charged through the field to take the lead for the first time on lap 94.
Hamlin built a lead that reached six seconds and survived several caution-flag restarts to easily stay out front. The day was a bit of redemption for Hamlin, who led 150 laps at Loudon in the July race but finished second to Kasey Kahne after a late-race pit miscue.
Hamlin outran Johnson by 2.67 seconds for the win. Third through fifth were Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer and Kahne. Chase drivers filled the top seven spots.
"I kept waiting for him (Hamlin) to make a mistake, and he wouldn't," Johnson said of Hamlin. "He did a great job."
Hamlin had called the win - sort of. After a tough day last Sunday in Chicago at the Chase opener, Hamlin told his Twitter followers that he would win the Loudon race. That boast reached the wider media, of course, and Hamlin backed away from his pronouncement later in the week, saying it certainly wasn't a guarantee of a win.
But he returned to the theme in the aftermath of the victory Sunday, climbing from his car and making a baseball-type swing and pointing into the distance, copying the famous home-run call by baseball Hall of Famer Babe Ruth in 1932.
"I just wanted to clarify that there are no guarantees," Hamlin said of his 'double-speak' on the topic during the week. "I've had the fastest car in my career and not won (probably) 20 times, some crazy amount, and not won because of the variables that I talked about on Friday.
"So I just wanted it to be clear that, all right, I'm not guaranteeing anything, but barring any of those circumstances happening, we were going to win. I had faith that we were going to win. It was more for my fan base that was probably down on my performance at Chicago. ... I was going to assure them that we were going to have a rebound week."
And he certainly was right about that.
NOTES: Carl Edwards isn't in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, but he's busy. The 99 team is using the rest of this season to build for the next. Edwards said the team is working on faster pit stops, improved qualifying and better balanced race cars. "I would say those are the three biggest things, that if we could fix all three of those things each week, we'd have a lot better chance of winning," Edwards said. He finished 19th Sunday, the last driver on the lead lap. ... Former point leader Keselowski rallied over the closing laps to finish sixth Sunday. He lost the points lead (by one) to Johnson but said he was pleased with Sunday's effort. "We'd like to be just a little bit faster than where we were today, but this is what a championship team does," he said. "They take weekends where they're not the best, and they make something out of it." ... Hamlin's victory Sunday is Joe Gibbs Racing's 100th Sprint Cup win. Hamlin has won 22 of that total. ... The Chase moves on to Dover International Speedway next weekend for Race Three. Johnson won at Dover in June.
Hamlin wins Sylvania 300; Johnson takes Sprint Cup points lead
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