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Hamlin wins at Pocono Raceway
Denny Hamlin makes a pit stop during the NASCAR Pennsylvania 500 auto race at Pocono Raceway at Long Pond, Pa. Monday. - photo by Associated Press
LONG POND, Pa. — Denny Hamlin ended a 50-race winless skid Monday, holding off Juan Pablo Montoya over the final riveting laps at Pocono Raceway before choking up with grief in Victory Lane.Hamlin won for the third time in eight career starts at the triangle track that has become his personal playground. He has had three other top 10s there.He was in tears following the Pennsylvania 500, the victory coming days after his grandmother's death. There was a catch to his voice as he spoke, and he wiped his face with a towel before walking away for a subdued celebration. His grandmother, Thelma Clark, died Friday at 91."We definitely had some angels with us today," Hamlin said.The race had been delayed a day because of rain. Usually not known as a track that produces exciting races, this one was wild and unpredictable almost from the start.Clint Bowyer was third. Sam Hornish Jr. was fourth for his best finish in a Cup car, and Kasey Kahne was fifth."Things haven't been going our way all year long so it feels good to have something swing our way," Bowyer said.This was Hamlin's first victory since Martinsville Speedway in March 2008. He backed up his predicted victory and strengthened his bid for a spot in the Chase for the championship."Denny was the car to beat all day," Kahne said.Three-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson battled an unruly car all day, falling three laps down and needing a carburetor change with 60 laps left before rebounding with a solid 13th-place finish. Johnson was scheduled to visit with President Barack Obama on Monday in honor of his 2008 Sprint Cup title.Tony Stewart, who won Pocono in June, finished 10th and increased his points lead to 197 over Johnson.Montoya rebounded nicely after the crushing disappointment of losing a victory last week at Indianapolis because of a pit road speeding penalty. Montoya insisted when he got to Pocono that he had moved on and kept his eye solely on the points standings. He went from 10th to eighth in the standings and is in good shape to make the Chase for the first time."My goal this year is making the Chase," Montoya said. "That's the bigger picture. The 18 (Kyle Busch) has won three races this year and he's like 150 points out."Bowyer, who wasn't won in 47 races, moved up to 15th in the Chase standings. There are five races left before the 12-driver field is set for the 10-race sprint for the title.Bowyer lost the lead with eight laps left."There wasn't a straight finger on my car," Bowyer said. "Once they caught me, they caught me."Hamlin had a rare poor outing in the June race at Pocono because of a fuel pump problem that sent him to the garage after only two laps. He returned and finished 38th, but has been one of the hottest drivers over the last seven races.Hamlin recorded four top fives over that span and did all he could to move up the standings — except win."I feel like we're the best car other than the Hendrick cars," Hamlin said.The Hendrick cars were mostly out of the picture over the final laps, leaving a pack of drivers who haven't contended for many checkered flags this year going for the win.Montoya, Bowyer and Hornish are all winless, and Kahne has one victory.Hamlin led 91 laps, but had fallen to 11th. He bumped David Reutimann with 25 laps left to bring out a caution.Fueled by emotion, Hamlin scrapped any ideas of a conservative approach for points and took off for the win. One member of Hamlin's crew recently lost his mother, and the whole team competed with heavy hearts. Hamlin couldn't keep his emotions in check."Every lap. Every single lap it comes out," Hamlin said. "When I got behind, it really started getting frustrating from my standpoint. I thought I was going to let it slip away with 50 to go."He went from sixth to second on one lap after a strong restart late in the race to set himself up for the win."This puts the confidence back in me that I can come back with 30 to go and win the race," Hamlin said.