Denny Hamlin puts together error-free race to win at Watkins Glen

Survive and advance. Really that’s what Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International was all about. Survive and advance.

While Denny Hamlin’s victory had its share of highlight moments, a lot of NASCAR’s best racers self–destructed in a big way.

Jimmie Johnson, the six-time Sprint Cup champion and active leader in race wins had two pit-road speeding penalties and then he plowed into a wrecked Ricky Stenhouse Jr., knocking both cars out of the race.

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Jeff Gordon, Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, has won more road races than anyone in NASCAR history. But he made it just five laps before running into the back of Austin Dillon.

AJ Allmendinger, the 2014 Glen winner, had a pit-road penalty and another for not maintaining speed under caution. And then he wrecked Kyle Larson on the last lap.

Race leaders Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski both muffed not one but two late-race restarts.

But Hamlin? He was close to flawless.

Ironic, perhaps, because Hamlin lost the first road course race of the year at Sonoma Raceway in June with a mistake in the last corner of the last lap. On top of that, he’s had a ton of pit-road penalties this year.

On this day, though, Hamlin held off a furious last-lap charge from his quasi-teammate Martin Truex Jr., who ultimately got spun out by Brad Keselowski, allowing Joey Logano and Keselowski to finish second and third, respectively.

That allowed Hamlin to win for the first time since the season-opening Daytona 500. It was a big moment for Hamlin and the team alike.

And it made up for blowing the Sonoma finish, too.

"I can’t tell you how disappointed I was we didn’t win the first one," Hamlin said of the Sonoma road race. "I just tried the best I could and overshot the corner and I didn’t want to do it this time and so I probably under drove and let those guys be a little closer than I should’ve." 

Drivers usually aren’t the humble sorts but Hamlin allowed as how he really did win because guys who where ahead of him late in the race made mistakes.

"Really, I didn’t do anything special," Hamlin said. "It was just the front two cars, the 2 (Brad Keselowski) and the 18 (Kyle Busch) just overshot the corner in that one restart and gave us an opportunity. And, then it was just about hitting my marks and making sure that I didn’t give those guys a chance like I gave Tony (Stewart) a chance at Sonoma."

Mission accomplished.