Hamlin outduels Larson at Dover for third win of 2024

KONNER METZ
Editor-in-Chief

Denny Hamlin led 136 of 400 laps at Dover Motor Speedway’s Würth 400 on Sunday en route to his third victory of the 2024 season.

It did not come without a formidable challenge from second-place finisher Kyle Larson, who put pressure on the driver of the No. 11 by running the top lane. Multiple times within the final 10 laps, Larson pulled within a couple car lengths as the two leaders worked through lapped traffic.

Hamlin countered the late runs from Larson by moving up the race track himself, stripping away the clean air from the No. 5 machine.

“I don’t think I’m great at it,” Hamlin said of his defending despite the win. “There are certainly some that are better [at] defending their spot than others. I don’t put myself very high on that list.

“I’m probably pretty low on that list, which makes me a little worried when you’re going up against Kyle at the end of the race, [who is] not afraid to move around the race track. He’s not stuck to one line. His car was really good in the long run. I was certainly nervous, but I knew that as long as I did my job, hit my marks, didn’t have any major blowup laps … [then] I was going to be able to hold him off.”

Post-race, Larson said he would like to see the rearview cameras removed from the cars in order to make “aero-blocking” – when leading cars mimic the lane of a trailing car to take clean air off the nose – less of a factor.

“The lead car is just really, really tough to pass,” Larson said. “It’s not hard to air-block in these cars. … If you took the cameras out of the car, that’s one of the little things that could fix it.”

Hamlin and his crew chief Chris Gabehart, however, did not feel the cameras made as much of a difference in the closing laps.

“I didn’t use it much today,” Hamlin said. “Dover’s just a track where things happen so fast … I kind of relied more on the spotter to defend than I do the actual camera. I don’t think I’m good enough to drive and look backwards.”

Hamlin stands next to the Miles the Monster trophy after securing his third win of the 2024 campaign. Konner Metz/THE REVIEW

With a sunny race track and considerable tire wear, comers and goers were a constant theme of the race. Three of the top five finishers started outside the top 10 – Larson (2nd) from 21st, Martin Truex Jr. (3rd) from 15th and Chase Elliott (5th) from 29th.

Truex Jr. secured the victory in the opening stage under yellow after veteran Brad Keselowski spun out and forced a caution. The race’s first caution came on lap 40 when Todd Gilliland slid down the frontstretch banking while racing Austin Dillon for position.

However, Truex Jr. faded and ceded way to Hamlin, Larson and Alex Bowman in the second stage. Larson edged Bowman for the stage two win, stating after the race he used the rearview camera tactic to keep his Hendrick Motorsports teammate at bay.

With 71 laps to go, the day’s largest accident occurred off Turn 2 after Zane Smith made contact with Bubba Wallace. Wallace careened down the backstretch as William Byron hit the No. 23 head-on, while Christopher Bell simultaneously spun. 

All three drivers were released from the care center after taking their cars to the garage.

In the final green flag run, Bowman (who finished 8th) fell down the running order, and Truex Jr. charged back inside the top five. But Hamlin and Larson were the clear frontrunners, with the final margin of victory a slim 0.256 seconds.

“I know that he’s willing to take chances to reel me in,” Hamlin said of his late duel with Larson. “If you’re not willing to push it to the absolute edge, you’re not optimizing lap time. When he’s chasing, he is pushing it to the edge. I’m just trying not to screw up.

“Kyle Larson’s just a hard guy to beat, period.”

With Sunday’s victory, Hamlin joins Byron for the series lead in wins at three. He also jumped two spots in the overall points standings to fourth, behind the top three of Larson, Truex Jr. and Elliott.

Heim, Johnson have ho-hum days

A major storyline entering the weekend came from the No. 43 Legacy Motor Club team operated by seven-time NASCAR Cup champions Richard Petty, the team’s club ambassador and Jimmie Johnson, a co-owner. 

Erik Jones, who normally pilots the No. 43, was sidelined for Sunday’s race after a vicious crash last week at Talladega Superspeedway, which ended in a spinal fracture.

21-year-old Corey Heim made his Cup debut and finished 25th, three laps down.

Corey Heim piloted the No. 43 Legacy Motor Club Toyota as a substitute for Erik Jones, who was injured in a wreck at Talladega Superspeedway last week. Konner Metz/THE REVIEW

Heim kept pace well with his teammates, as Cup regular John Hunter Nemechek drove the No. 42 car to a 20th-place finish (two laps down). Johnson was behind the wheel of the No. 84, a one-off for the great who retired from full-time duties in 2020.

Johnson ended the day five laps down in 28th, a far cry from his typical Dover performances – Johnson holds the track record with 11 career wins. He has six more races scheduled for the organization, including an upcoming start at Kansas Speedway next Sunday.

Top 10

1st: No. 11 Denny Hamlin (136 laps led)

2nd: No. 5 Kyle Larson (39)

3rd: No. 19 Martin Truex Jr. (69)

4th: No. 8 Kyle Busch (34)

5th: No. 9 Chase Elliott (0)

6th: No. 10 Noah Gragson (0)

7th: No. 12 Ryan Blaney (47)

8th: No. 48 Alex Bowman (0)

9th: No. 31 Daniel Hemric (5)

10th: No. 54 Ty Gibbs (0)

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