Hamlin holds on, Busch beats himself

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Darrell Waltrip

Darrell Waltrip — winner of 84 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races and a three-time champion — serves as lead analyst for NASCAR on FOX. He was selected for induction into the prestigious NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2012. Want more from DW? Become a fan on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

I love road racing because it takes in so many elements. You've got to have a great car. But you've got to have great pit strategy, and you've got to have a smart driver. It's my kind of racing.

We saw the good, the bad and the ugly. We saw the good with Denny Hamlin winning. That kid is fun to watch, and he's got some talent. With a series of late restarts, I don't care if you've led a race 100 times or if it was his first time; Hamlin was a nervous wreck. His heart was pounding out of his chest. He might have been acting cool and calm, but when he looked in the rearview mirror, he said, "Man, these restarts are killing me. I just want to go home. I want to get this thing in the bank." Last year's Mexico City winner, Martin Truex Jr., got off to a shaky start, but he dominated this race. It jump-started his season. Hamlin wrecked in the first race of the season at Daytona, and now he looks like he's following in the footsteps of last year's champ. One of the main reasons Hamlin was in Mexico was to get seat time on a road course for Sonoma and Watkins Glen. We saw the bad and the ugly with Kyle Busch taking out Michel Jourdain Jr. The other part of "the ugly" was the call that NASCAR made on Kevin Harvick on the sixth restart. It was wrong, and I was glad that NASCAR fixed it.

Top 10 countdown

2nd) Boris Said: It should make Said feel too bad to get beaten by one of his students. Down the stretch, he couldn't catch Hamlin; so the main thing he wanted to do was finish second. While he wished he could jump on the back of Hamlin on the late restarts, he had to be a little defensive and protect himself so Harvick wouldn't get by him. Crew chief Trip Bruce said the No. 9 team worked all weekend to sit on the pole and be in position at the end of the race, and in the end, the race was in the driver's hands. 3rd) Kevin Harvick: I applaud NASCAR for putting Harvick back in 3rd place because I was confused how they assessed a penalty on the sixth restart, since he did everything right. The only thing I wasn't sure about is if the green flag hadn't come out, but I applaud NASCAR for straightening out the decision. 4th) J.J. Yeley: I think it's the Year of the J.J.'s. There's Yeley. J.J. Redick has set a lot of scoring records for Duke in NCAA basketball this year. Jimmie Johnson is leading the Nextel Cup point standings. 5th) Paul Menard: People in NASCAR have underestimated Menard in all of his abilities. Since the middle of last year, he's the most improved Busch driver in the series. He's really got his act together. 6th) Johnny Sauter: Crew chief Harold Holly has had an incredible amount of success with these Busch cars. He won races with Bobby Hamilton Jr., and he won a championship with Jeff Green. Holly really has this program turned around, and it's going really well. 7th) Kyle Busch had a fast car, and if he had just been a little more patient, he would have led and possibly won the race. Taking out Michel Jourdain Jr. was a case of beating himself. 8th) Carl Edwards: They made wholesale changes on the No. 60 car before qualifying on Saturday morning. He said that he didn't know what he had. He was shooting in the dark, but he shot himself a second consecutive top-10 finish. 9th) Marc Goossens: Last year's pole-sitter, Jorge Goeters, had a great car, and then he ended up having problems in the pits. One of the hardest things for drivers making one-off starts is making pit green-flag stops. The goose was loose, but he laid a golden egg with a top-10 finish.
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10th) Jamie McMurray picked up a little speed with his back end being opened up when he spun into the wall and then collided with Adrian Fernandez early in the race. You don't reckon his car owner, Rusty Wallace, told him to pull it off of there — do you? We talk about what's more important at a road course. Is it on-track incidents when a car gets beat up? No, it's pit strategy. The No. 64 team got a top 10 finish because they made their pit stops at the right time, even with a torn up racecar.

Next up for Nextel Cup

We're on our way to cha-ching! Las Vegas! The Roush cars are going to be tough again. They've got the mile-and-a-half program down. You've got to figure Tony Stewart will hold his breath, worrying about the engine failure that he had at California. But it'll be a Roush and Gibbs race, while Jeff Gordon and Hendrick Motorsports have a little catching up to do along with Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Tagged: Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Paul Menard, Tony Stewart

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