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Denny Hamlin made an impressive SRX Series debut Thursday night at Stafford Motor Speedway, holding off a hard-charging Ryan Newman to win the rain-shortened race. There were no fans around to cheer him in his brief Victory Lane celebration because they had evacuated the grandstands due to the fast-approaching storm.

However, based on what happened before the race, not many would have celebrated with him anyway because, as the Joe Gibbs Racing driver found out, he was in the middle of enemy territory.  

Denny Hamlin wins in impressive SRX debut

Denny Hamlin said this week on his Actions Detrimental podcast that he was looking forward to his first SRX Series race and, having never driven one of the cars, would just figure it out as he went along. 

He did just that in Heat 1. After starting on Row 3 next to Clint Bowyer, the three-time Daytona 500 winner got a great restart following the race’s first caution and moved up multiple positions to the third spot before another yellow came out.  

On the subsequent restart, the 42-year-old gained more track position and surged to the front, where he stayed for the last few laps to win the heat. Hamlin finished seventh in Heat 2 after starting from the rear of the field on the inverted lineup, and then in the main event, using the average finish from the first two heats, started on the outside of Row 1. 

Following a caution for the biggest crash of the night, Hamlin moved into first place 13 laps into the main event and never looked back. Ryan Newman appeared to be closing in on the final laps, but officials called the race early due to lightning in the area. 

Fans boo Hamlin

Before the start of Heat 2, University of Connecticut men’s basketball coach Dan Hurley gave an interview to ESPN, where he talked about his nerves when giving the command to start engines and revealed Hamlin was his pick to win. ESPN’s Nicole Briscoe followed up on that thought with an observation she had made earlier in the night.

“You know what’s amazing is these fans, they are very opinionated,” Briscoe said. “When we were talking about Denny Hamlin earlier, that was probably the driver who was booed the most.”

Later in the broadcast, Briscoe interviewed Tony Kanaan and asked him who was to blame for his hood getting damaged and flying off during the heat. The 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner said Hamlin got into the rear of his car multiple times, which sent him forward into Paul Tracy, damaging his vehicle. 

“I have a feeling if you want to go after Hamlin — I don’t know if you heard the boos from the crowd — I think you will have some supporters,” the reporter told the driver.   

Joey Logano country

There’s a good explanation for so many Hamlin haters at Stafford Motor Speedway — it’s Joey Logano country. The two-time Cup Series champion and Connecticut native, who was working in the broadcast booth, happily pointed that out later in the race. 

“When you bring the stars of these high, elite-racing series to a local short track, it puts this place at capacity,” the Team Penske driver said as the camera showed the full stands. “All the people they can possibly fit in here at Stafford tonight, you see them all here. They’re enjoying the race. 

“There’s a man with a 22 hat,” he said. “There’s a shirt with a 22. There’s some great, very smart race fans in Connecticut. The best around the whole country right here.” 

And they remember Martinsville 2019.

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