KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Denny Hamlin reignited his quest for a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship with his fifth win of the season Sunday at Kansas Speedway.
Hamlin wasn’t the dominant driver early – that honor belonged to Kyle Larson – but once Hamlin dove past his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. for the race lead on lap 126 of the Hollywood Casino 400 there was no looking back.
The 38-year-old Chesterfield, Va., native paced 144 of the final 152 laps en route to victory, only giving up command briefly for green flag pit stops during the final stage.
Once the cycle of service concluded on lap 227, Hamlin’s No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry remained out front for the duration, including two overtimes after a rash of late yellows.
The chaos began with 15 to go, after Ryan Blaney slapped the outside wall and shredded a right-rear tire, leaving debris strewn in turn two and giving NASCAR officials no choice but to call the caution.
At that point, Hamlin led the field down pit road and exited with control, taking two tires along with Kyle Larson and Jimmie Johnson, while Kyle Busch was the first car on four fresh tires in fourth for a restart with nine to go.
Busch never got a chance to use those tires to the fullest, however, as a broken wheel hub on Bubba Wallace’s Chevrolet generated another caution with four laps left and sent the race to its first overtime attempt.
The first overtime saw Elliott join Hamlin on the front row, with Elliott at that point needing a win to advance over Brad Keselowski, who pitted for fresh tires and restarted 15th.
Hamlin held serve on the restart and appeared to be home free, but a crash on the frontstretch involving Daniel Suarez and Daniel Hemric illuminated the caution lights moments before Hamlin hit the start/finish line to take the white flag under green.
That led to a second overtime, which saw Hamlin hang on to a narrow margin of .128 seconds over Elliott’s Chevrolet at the checkered flag.
Sunday’s triumph was the 36th Cup Series win of Hamlin’s career and his second at Kansas.
“Man, this is a great feeling,” said Hamlin, one of three Joe Gibbs Racing drivers to advance into the semifinal round of the playoffs, along with Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. “That car was awesome to dominate that whole second half.
“I have to thank everybody who pushed me on the restarts, Kyle (Busch), the 9 (Elliott) at the end. It’s good to see him make it by points anyway. But, hey, I’m just really happy for this whole FedEx team. It’s been great. We’ve been running really well and I cannot wait to get to Martinsville (for the opening race of the Round of 8).”
Elliott’s second-place finish, combined with Keselowski being shuffled back to 19th in the final two laps, was enough to advance the Dawsonville, Ga., native in the playoffs by a scant four points over Keselowski.
Busch grabbed third at the finish after his four fresh tires proved not to be as big an advantage as many expected. Kurt Busch quietly ran fourth and William Byron was fifth.
Truex, Erik Jones, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson completed the top 10.
Hamlin, Elliott, Kyle Busch, Truex, Harvick, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney are the eight drivers who survived Sunday to remain playoff-eligible.
Keselowski was the closest of those below the cut line, with Byron, Bowyer and 11th-finishing Alex Bowman also eliminated from championship contention.
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