Denny Hamlin dominates in Kansas, Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney make play-offs
Denny Hamlin dominated the second half of the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, the third and final race of the second round, or round of 12, of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, to claim his fifth win of the season.
With the win, he joins Dover International Speedway winner Kyle Larson and Talladega Superspeedway race winner Ryan Blaney as drivers advancing to the round of eight as previous-round winners.
“I love where we are at, no doubt about it,” Hamlin said. “I cannot wait to get to Martinsville. This week was just supposed to be a fun week for us, kind of check things out and make sure that we are good once we get down the road as we get to other tracks, and I’m pretty happy about where we are at.”
After two overtime restarts, Chase Elliott battled Hamlin for the win on the final lap and took second. With the runner-up finish, he narrowly took the final playoff advancing position on points, nudging out Brad Keselowski, who finished the race in the 19th position.
“We didn’t make it,” Keselowski said. “I pushed as hard as I knew how and didn’t quite do good enough on the last restart and that was it. We clawed as hard as we could and there were times it looked like we were going to be fine and times it didn’t. In the end it didn’t work out.”
Kyle Busch also advanced on points with a third-place finish. Kurt Busch finsihed fourth, and William Byron rounded out the top-five. Despite the top-five finish, Byron also was eliminated from the playoffs after the Kansas race, as was Clint Bowyer who also finished in the top-10 in eighth.
Alex Bowman was the other driver eliminated after the second round. He finished 11th Sunday.
Hamlin took the lead from Martin Truex Jr. on lap 125 and took a stage-two win on lap 160. After taking the lead from Truex, the only laps Hamlin didn’t lead came during a cycle of green-flag pit stops that began on lap 210. The cycle completed with Hamlin back up front on lap 226 and Kyle Busch in second.
Busch gave up second to take four tires while a handful of others, Hamlin included, took two during a caution on lap 253 when Blaney hit the wall.
“Eventually, I got too close to the fence trying to run it and run those guys back down and hit it,” Blaney said after finishing 21st. “We blew a tire before we could get to pit road. We knew we had to take that chance today trying to run hard. It sucks that I blew a tire and caused that caution. Overall, we need to find a little more speed, but I am proud of the day that we showed up until that mistake. We will go on to Martinsville.”
Despite taking four tires, Busch restarted fourth. Elliott, meanwhile, restarted outside the top-five after also taking four.
“I knew track position was the biggest factor for us,” Hamlin said. “As long as we could keep our car out front, it was the most important thing beyond tires. We made the right call and took two lefts, there, and that turned out to be the best call, there.”
Busch and Elliott each ran second to Hamlin in the closing laps, with Elliott taking second for the final time just before Hamlin took the white flag for the final lap.
While most of the lead-lap cars were taking tires for the final time during the Blaney caution, Keselowski stayed out to take the wave-around to get back on the lead lap. He took tires later, banking on being able to take advantage of newer tires to gain positions and points on Elliott.
Keselowski also was battling Team Penske teammate Joey Logano for the final playoff advancement position. Logano was collected in an incident between Daniel Hemric and Daniel Suarez made contact, resulting in the second and final overtime restart. Despite the incident. Logano finished the race two positions ahead of Keselowski in 17th.
Logano’s advancement over Keselowski was assisted by points Logano earned by winning the opening 80-lap stage of the race. He won the first stage after an unscheduled pit stop for a loose right-rear wheel on lap 32. That stop, though, was late enough in the stage to allow him to get to the end of the stage, while everyone else would also have to make a green-flag stop before the end of the stage.
Larson led 60 laps of the first 80-lap stage after taking the lead on lap six. He gave up the top spot to make his green-flag stop on lap 48. When the cycle completed with Hamlin’s stop on lap 58, Larson was back up front.
But Larson, along with nearly everyone else, pitted when the yellow flag waved for a Ryan Newman incident on lap 75. Larson lost eight positions on pit road, and four drivers, including Logano stayed out, shuffling Larson outside the top-10.
Logano took the lead on the restart with two laps remaining in the stage, while Larson was unable to get back inside the top-10.
Larson’s trouble continued in the second stage. He made contact with Joey Gase, sending Gase into a spin and bringing out the third caution of the race on lap 116. Larson was, then, penalized on pit road for an uncontrolled tire.
Larson recovered to finish 14th.
During the same caution, the hood went up on Kyle Busch’s car on pit road for work to repair a stuck throttle. Busch was, then, penalized for having too many of his crew members over the pit wall.
Busch was able to get back inside the top-10 by the time the second stage ended on lap 160.
After Daniel Suarez led early in the second stage, Truex took the lead on lap 93, and he and Hamlin combined to lead the remainder of the stage.
Truex finished sixth and advanced in the playofs, while Erik Jones was sevneth. Kevin Harvick advanced with a ninth-place finish, and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top-10.
“That was not a very good weekend from top to bottom,” Harvick said. “I just didn’t have a very good car today and didn’t have a very good day on pit road. Nothing went right all weekend. It was definitely one of the worst weekends we have had in awhile. We had to start in the back and had a tough day getting through traffic. A couple times we got up there and, then, had bad stops and got mired in traffic. It didn’t go as planned with our Jimmy John’s Ford, but we did what we needed to do to get to the next round, and now we get to start over.”