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LOUDON, N.H. — Denny Hamlin stepped out of his car, pointed into the air, and took a mighty swing of an invisible baseball bat. Like Babe Ruth did before him (or so the legend goes), Hamlin had called his shot.
NASCAR's top winner in the regular season earned his series-leading fifth victory of the year Sunday, backing up a tweet of "We will win" with a mistake-free and dominating run at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in the second event of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
"You don't want to sound too cocky, but I knew what we were capable of," said Hamlin, who was 32nd in qualifying after his crew put the wrong pressure in his tires. "I know we made a couple of big mistakes, but I said we were fast enough to make it up, and we did."
It was the 100th career victory for team owner Joe Gibbs. And it came with a little teamwork, too, when Kyle Busch slowed down to help suck some debris off the front of Hamlin's car and propel him to victory.
"As fast as he was, he could have gone to the back of any car and pulled that off," said Jimmie Johnson, who finished second and took over the Chase lead. "I kind of thought he would be the guy to beat, and he certainly was. We are second-best."
Johnson will head into Dover, Del., one of his top tracks, one point ahead of Chicago winner Brad Keselowski, who was sixth Sunday. Jeff Gordon, who was the last man to qualify for the Chase, was third.
"We had a great race car," said Johnson, a five-time season champion, "just not an amazing car like the No. 11 did here today."
Hamlin improved to third in the Chase, seven points behind Johnson, despite a tumultuous week that began with him running out of gas in Chicago and continued when his crew used race pressure instead of qualifying pressure in his tires on Friday. Hamlin also had problems with his crew here in July, when confusion during a tire change dropped him into traffic and left him scurrying to get back to the front of the field.
But he was confident enough on this track, where he now has five top-five finishes in his last seven races, that he told a group of U.S. National Guardsmen during a publicity trip to New Hampshire earlier this month that he would be back to share a few beers in victory lane. And despite finishing 16th in Chicago, Hamlin tweeted: "This is week 1 of 10. We will win next week."
Hamlin had the fastest car in both practices, but the mistake in qualifying had him starting near the back of the field. Hamlin said he came to the track on Sunday with the goal of getting into the top 10 by the 100th lap.
He did better than that, taking the lead on the 94th lap and holding it for 193 laps in all.
"He was the class of the field from the time we unloaded," said Clint Bowyer, who finished fourth and is tied for fifth in the Chase. "I don't know what they figured out, but they figured it out in a big way."
FENWAY, NO WAY: It was a tough weekend for Fenway Sports Group, a part-owner of Roush Fenway Racing and the owners of the Boston Red Sox and England's Liverpool soccer team.
RFR drivers Matt Kenseth (14th), Greg Biffle (18th), and Carl Edwards (19th) all struggled. Biffle is now ninth in the Chase to the Sprint Cup standings, 33 points behind Johnson, and Kenseth remained in 11th, 35 behind.
"Everybody wants to be leading, but ... we got everything we could out of our car," Kenseth said. "It wasn't much better than that."
Biffle climbed into the top 10 on the track but struggled with the grip.
"We were doing well in the middle part of the race, and I thought, ‘Man, we've got something. We're going,'?" he said. "We got up to 10th and then went straight backwards. I don't know what happened."
Elsewhere, it was the same for the sports conglomerate.
Liverpool lost 2-1 to Manchester United on a controversial penalty kick. The Red Sox, who are playing the worst seasons in the current ownership's tenure, beat Baltimore 2-1 on Sunday but dropped two of three to the Orioles.
BORN TO BE WILD: A baby born in the parking lot of the New Hampshire Motor Speedway last week was given a gift basket Sunday along with tickets for life to every NASCAR Sprint Cup race at the track.
Katie Ann Hebert, 9 days old, was in the track media center before the race. Her mother, Shawna Arnold, said she was in labor and on her way to Concord General Hospital on Sept. 14 when her water broke in front of the race track. The baby's father, Erik Hebert, pulled off the road into the track's parking lot, which already had ambulances standing by in preparation for the race.
NHMS general manager Jerry Gappens said he believes "there are angels among us."
"That was certainly the case last Friday when they gave birth to a little miracle baby in our parking lot," he said. "This was as good a place for it to happen because we had the people in place to help."
It's the third daughter for Arnold, 27.