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Hamlin holds off Gordon to win at New Hampshire

Jul 2, 2007 - 12:57 AM LOUDON, New Hampshire (Ticker) -- For once, Denny Hamlin's pit crew actually helped him win a race.

Hamlin benefited from sound pit strategy and held off Jeff Gordon to win Sunday's NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Lenox Industrial Tools 300 at New Hamsphire International Speedway.

It was the first victory this season and third career for Hamlin, who averaged 108.209 miles per hour in a Chevrolet Impala and won $235,775. The second-year star visited Victory Lane for the first time since last July 23 at Pocono, ending a 32-race drought without a win.

The reigning Rookie of the Year, Hamlin admitted he was nervous about his car's dwindling tires as well as the hard-charging Gordon.

"My right foot was just shaking on the last three laps," Hamlin said. "You try to hold the gas pedal down and your foot is going like crazy because you get nervous. You see Jeff coming and you're trying your best not to be that guy who chokes under pressure."

Ironically, Hamlin had responded well to pressure following his surprising rookie campaign, registering five top-three finishes and entering Sunday's 300-lap event second in the standings.

Despite being one of the series' top drivers this season, Hamlin had failed to win a race partly due to numerous mistakes by his pit crew, which was overhauled back in May.

But Sunday was a different story for Hamlin's crew chief, Mike Ford, who opted to change only two tires while the rest of the field went with four fresh tires during a pit stop on lap 256.

The gamble paid off, as Hamlin exited pit row ahead of Gordon, Martin Truex Jr. and the rest of the leaders. The 26-year-old Hamlin admitted his team took a risk but cited his comfortable cushion in the Chase standings as a reason behind the decision.

"We chose to take the two because we have a decent enough lead on 12th (place in the Chase) right now that we feel we can take those little extra risks," he said. "The reward was going to be much bigger than the consequences if it didn't work."

Hamlin enjoyed a comfortable lead until lap 294, when Gordon passed Truex for second and began his pursuit of the lead. Things got really interesting on the final lap, when Gordon bumped the nose of his Chevrolet into Hamlin's rear fender.

However, Gordon could not complete the pass, much to the delight of Hamlin.

"I was on the verge of getting loose in the corner on every single lap," Hamlin said. "On those last three laps when I knew I just couldn't make a mistake, I just slowed down.

"It was better to let those guys get a little bit closer and not make a mistake than it was to go all out and open the door for them."

Hamlin was so nervous down the stretch that he began to get annoyed with his spotter and his radio man, both of whom were urging their driver to hold on to the lead.

"I was about 10 seconds from telling everyone not to say another word," he said. "I can look in my mirror and see (Gordon) coming.

"I almost felt like I would been better off with complete silence. They're trying to get me all of the information possible, but I was almost ready to say, 'Let me handle it from here because you are on the verge of driving me crazy.'"

Chevrolets captured the top eight finishing spots in a race which featured 20 lead changes among 11 drivers and included six cautions totalling 31 laps.

Gordon ran second, followed by Truex, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Green, Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick.

A four-time series champion and the current points leader, Gordon was running the first of six races without penalized crew chief Steve Letarte, who was sanctioned by NASCAR earlier this week stemming from infractions found last week at Infineon.

"I'm just so proud of this team to come in here with that kind of pressure without Steve and a lot of attention and they stepped up," Gordon said. "It feels good.

"Martin and I had a great battle there at the end, and 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."

Matt Kenseth finished ninth in a Ford Fusion while Ryan Newman completed the top 10 in a Dodge Avenger.

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