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Denny Hamlin gives Chase Elliott room, earns best finish of season

Denny Hamlin finished second at the Gander Ourdoors 400, which marked his best finish of the 2018 season.

During the overtime restart Sunday at Dover International Speedway, Denny Hamlin was very much aware of the last time he and Chase Elliott ran 1-2 in a playoff race.

Hamlin, who finished a season-best second to Elliott, did not want a repeat of last October’s race at Martinsville.

That saw Hamlin punt Elliott from the lead with just two laps left in the scheduled distance and an angry Elliott confront Hamlin on the track afterwards.

After a “pretty uneventful” Dover race for his No. 11 team, Hamlin kept it that way over the last three green-flag laps around the 1-mile track.

“After last fall, I was really making sure I didn’t make any contact, to be honest with you,” Hamlin said.

Chase Elliott said “I haven’t really had an issue with him since then,” but in the closing laps “I can’t say that I singled him out.”

Hamlin restarted on the inside of Elliott.

There were in that position after Elliott’s team elected to stay out of the pits during a late caution and Hamlin took two tires. They then survived a multicar wreck involving five playoff drivers, which set up the overtime finish.

“The outside line was the preferred groove for the restart guys all day,” Hamlin told NBCSN. “We ran a 23.70 (seconds) on that last lap. (Elliott) was a 23.60. (Doing that on older tires) is amazing. I ran as hard as I could through (Turns) 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and just couldn’t get beside him there. Proud of the whole FedEx Team. Definitely a step in the right direction. We chipped away at it all day long, kept moving up through the field. This is kind of where we deserved. Proud of this finish.”

Hamlin added, “Glad to see me and Chase could finish 1-2 here in a playoff race and not have any controversy, so happy for those guys.”

The finish is Hamlin’s best through 30 races this year and comes after he was eliminated from playoff contention last week at the Charlotte Roval. The runner-up finish is also his best Dover finish in 26 starts.

His previous best Dover result was fourth (2007, 2010).

The result is his second top five since the Coca-Cola 600 in May.