Denny Hamlin wins at Kansas; Chase Elliott narrowly advances

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KANSAS CITY, KANSAS - OCTOBER 20: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Office Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway on October 20, 2019 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Reid Spencer – NASCAR Wire Service

 

KANSAS CITY, KANSAS – OCTOBER 20: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Office Toyota, celebrates his victory with a burnout after the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway on October 20, 2019 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – As Denny Hamlin was finishing off a dominating day in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, Chase Elliott stole perhaps an even bigger prize—a spot in the Round of 8 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

Hamlin, who led 153 of 277 laps, crossed the finish line .128 seconds ahead of Elliott in a second overtime to secure his fifth victory of the season, his second at Kansas Speedway and the 36th of his career.

But the real suspense in the second overtime featured a three-way battle between Elliott, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano for the final two spots in the Round of 8. Logano restarted 20th in a damaged No. 22 Ford and finished 17th to secure one of the Playoff positions.

Keselowski, who entered the race with a 20-point margin over Elliott, was bottled up on the final restart, fell from 13th to 19th in the running order and lost the final Playoff berth to Elliott by three points.

Fittingly, there were two celebrations on pit road—one for the winner and one for the runner-up.

“This is a great feeling,” said Hamlin, who led Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch (third) and Martin Truex Jr. (sixth) into the penultimate round of the Playoffs. “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. 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. Been running really good. Cannot wait to get to Martinsville (next Sunday’s Round of 8 opener).”

Elliott is the only Hendrick Motorsports driver to transfer into the Round of 8. Teammate William Byron was fifth on Sunday but missed the next round by 16 points. Alex Bowman suffered early damage and rallied to run 11th, but he finished the race 20 points behind Elliott for the last spot.

Clint Bowyer came home eighth and was eliminated from the Playoffs in 12th place, 21 points below the cut line.

“The good news was the bottom lane rolled good enough on the last restart to at least get back to second,” Elliott said. “So I appreciate the effort. We were really struggling there at one point in the race. You have to stay fighting in these things, especially with these late race restarts.

“Just proud of the effort today. Just excited we get to fight another race. Back up against the wall, to come out here and battle for a win, that’s what you have to do when you’re in the position that we were in.

“If you ever get to Homestead (in the Championship 4 race), you’re going to have to fight for a win down there. Proud of the effort. Learned a lot. To be able to come out here and, like I said, in our minds have to win, come and fight for one, to finish second, I think is a step in the right direction for us. So excited to move on.”

Logano won the first 80-lap stage and added four points with a seventh-place finish in the second stage to give himself the buffer he needed at the end, after spinning through the infield grass on the next-to-last lap in the first overtime, the result of a collision with the Chevrolet of Ty Dillon.

Logano, the defending series champion, finished the Round of 12 nine points ahead of Keselowski, his Team Penske teammate.

An effective charge toward the end of the race netted Kurt Busch a fourth-place finish. Truex, Erik Jones, Bowyer, Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson completed the top 10.

Despite an off day, Harvick cruised into the next round of the Playoffs. Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney already were locked into the Round of 8, thanks to their respective victories at Dover and Talladega.

NASCAR Playoff intensity keeps rising as next 

round approaches

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – As intense NASCAR competition often goes – and much to the pleasure of its fans – the eight drivers who have advanced in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs may not have been the odds-on choices to challenge for the Cup championship in the pre-season. But the mix of motivated young talent and tested veterans has certainly created a must-see penultimate three-race semifinal round beginning this week at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway with the First Data 500 (Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Following last Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway, regular season champion Kyle Busch, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin, Team Penske’s Joey Logano, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick, Hendrick Motorsport’s Chase Elliott, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson and Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney earned their right to continue challenging for the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title.

With the points re-set, regular season champion Busch holds a slim four-point edge over six-race winner Truex, a nine-point advantage over Sunday’s winner Hamlin (a five-race winner) and Busch is 16 points up on defending Cup series champion Logano in fourth.

Among those drivers – Busch (2015), Truex (2017), Logano (2018) and Harvick (2014) are all former series champions. Sunday’s Kansas winner, Denny Hamlin, finished championship runner-up to seven-time champ Jimmie Johnson in 2010 and has finished third in the title chase twice (2006 and 2014).

The 20-somethings that will be challenging these seasoned vets, have plenty of reason to feel good about the upcoming Playoff round and their quest to hoist their first championship trophy. Chase Elliott, 23, has advanced to this Round of 8 each of the last three years posting a career-best championship finish of fifth in 2017. The 27-year old Kyle Larson’s best ever title run was eighth place in 2017. And this will be Ryan Blaney’s second-time making the Round of 8. The 25-year old’s best ever championship finish was ninth in 2017.

Although Larson and Blaney won the first two races of the last Playoff round to automatically advance, Elliott’s fate came down to an overtime restart on Sunday. The combination of his runner-up finish and veteran Brad Keselowski’s tough luck on those last two laps – including a brush with the wall – was enough to move Elliott in the title hunt by a mere three-points over the 2012 Cup champ Keselowski at the checkered flag.

Not only was it a test of gumption, Elliott said his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports team’s last laps-effort was a positive sign of their possibilities down the Playoff stretch.

“If you ever get to (championship finale at) Homestead (Fla.), you’re going to have to fight for a win down there,” Elliott said Sunday afternoon at Kansas. “Proud of the effort. Learned a lot. To be able to come out here and, like I said, in our minds have to win, come and fight for one, to finish second. I think is a step in the right direction for us. So excited to move on.”

Sizing up the next three Playoff races that will ultimately decide which four drivers compete in Nov. 17 Homestead-Miami Speedway’s season finale, shows a decided edge to the veterans. However, just having had more experience at the tracks doesn’t necessarily ensure positive outcomes. There are good cases to be made for all eight of these title contenders.

Among these drivers Harvick has earned the most combined trophies (11) at the next three venues – Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Phoenix’s ISM Raceway. Hamlin has nine wins total and Busch has eight. Logano has a win at each of the tracks. These four drivers are the only Playoff competitors with victories at all three upcoming tracks.

At the historic half-mile Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, Hamlin leads the eight Playoff drivers with five wins, including three in a row from 2010-11. Four of the eight Playoff competitors have won the classic Martinsville grandfather clock awarded to race winners. Kyle Busch is the only other multi-time Martinsville winner with wins in Spring, 2016 and the 2017 Playoff race. Logano is the defending Playoff race winner at the track. Harvick won the 2011 Spring race.

Harvick is the only driver to win in all three of NASCAR’s major series at Martinsville, with a 2006 Xfinity series victory and three Gander Outdoors Truck Series trophies (2009, 2010, 2012). Busch and Hamlin both have a pair of truck series wins. Logano and Elliott have each won a truck race there as well.

However, among the Playoff drivers, Elliott boasts the best spring finish – a runner-up effort to Keselowski this May, Blaney was fourth.

At the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway, where the series races Nov. 3, Busch and Hamlin lead the Playoff contenders with three Cup wins each and Hamlin won just this April. Harvick is the only other among the eight with multiple Cup wins at TMS, winning both the 2017 and 2018 Playoff races there. Logano has one win – in 2014.

Among those without a Cup victory at Texas, Elliott did earn his first career Xfinity Series race victory there in 2014. Larson (2016) and Blaney (2018) also have Xfinity Series wins at Texas.

At the newly redesigned ISM Raceway in Phoenix, where the series races on Nov. 10, there is no question who shows up the odds-on ultimate race favorite: nine-time winner Kevin Harvick. He and three-time Cup winner Kyle Busch are the only drivers with multiple Cup victories at the Phoenix mile.

Busch has a track record 11 Xfinity Series wins there, along with a pair of truck victories. Harvick has an Xfinity win and four Truck Series wins in addition to his record nine Cup victories – the two drivers clearly are the class of the ISM Raceway field.

Busch has won the last two Cup races at the track – the first two on the newly-designed layout.

Logano (2016 Playoff win and a pair of Xfinity series wins) and Hamlin (a 2012 Cup winner) are the only other Playoff eligible drivers to hoist a trophy at the track.

Truex, who has set the bar with six victories in 2019, has not won at any of this Playoff round’s tracks. The 2017 series champion was runner-up in the 2017 Playoff race at Martinsville and third last year. He was also runner-up at Texas in the 2017 Playoff race – a career-best for him. He has three top-five finishes in the last four races at ISM Raceway and was runner-up to Busch this Spring – a career-best showing.

The redesign and change in track format makes this a new “ballgame” so to speak. And while Busch has certainly shown the way winning the opening two races on the new surface, because the facility represents the “last shot” to earn a championship chance, the competition is inevitably high-drama.

While the three youngest competitors haven’t earned the winning hardware at Phoenix yet, they do come into this Playoff round as recent winners – all having won Cup races in three of the past four weeks.

And momentum is a coveted attribute.

“A lot of circumstances determine whether or not you’re going to get to Homestead as a race team or an organization,” Hamlin’s crew chief Chris Gabehart said Sunday.

“Clearly, we have shown the ability to be the favorites, I think. It’s just a matter of executing, with a little bit of luck these next three (races), and I think we got a great shot at it.”

Holly Cain – NASCAR Wire Service

Brandon Jones wins at Kansas, as Xfinity Playoff drivers 

battle on and off track

KANSAS CITY, KANSAS – OCTOBER 19: Brandon Jones, driver of the #19 Flow Toyota, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway on October 19, 2019 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

After Saturday’s Kansas Lottery 300 took a sharp turn with 16 laps left, Brandon Jones sped away on two straight restarts to collect his first NASCAR Xfinity Series victory in a race that ended with Playoff drivers Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick brawling on pit road.

Jones stretched his advantage after a restart on Lap 196 of 200, with first Chase Briscoe and then Reddick giving chase. Jones held off both pursuers and crossed the finish line .272 seconds ahead of Reddick, with Briscoe .623 seconds behind the leader.

KANSAS CITY, KANSAS – OCTOBER 19: Brandon Jones, driver of the #19 Flow Toyota, races Chase Briscoe, driver of the #98 Ford Performance Ford, during the NASCAR Xfinity Series Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway on October 19, 2019 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

“My foot was literally shaking on the accelerator on that last lap,” Jones said in Victory Lane. “I’m not even sure if I was wide open at the time that I was doing it. There was a lot of nerves and a lot of emotion going through my mind, but I saw it coming, and I was pretty pumped.”

Contact from Reddick’s Chevrolet forced Custer into the outside wall after the final restart, and Custer dropped to 11th at the finish. After both drivers exited their cars on pit road, Custer approached Reddick to voice his displeasure, placing a hand on Reddick’s shoulder.

Reddick responded with both hands to the collar of Custer’s firesuit, and the drivers fell to the pavement while grappling, only to be separated by crew members.

“I put my hand on him, and he just went berserk,” said Custer, who led a race-high 85 laps and won the second stage. “I thought we had a good car. I thought we had a chance to win.”

“If he puts a hand on me, I’m going to put a hand on him back,” Reddick said. “That’s just how it’s going to be if we’re having a conversation that way… It was just the heat of the moment—we’re pissed off. I’m sure we’ll talk about it here soon, maybe today, tomorrow.

“I obviously didn’t want to get into his quarter panel, but if I lift, I get passed. I hate that it happened to him, but we’ll try to move forward.”

Briscoe was leading, with pole winner and series leader Christopher Bell right behind when the two drivers closed fast on the No. 0 of Garrett Smithley on Lap 184. Smithley steered toward the top of the track and pinched Briscoe’s Ford into the outside wall.

With no room to maneuver, Bell plowed into Briscoe’s car, sending Bell’s No. 20 Supra sliding across the infield grass with major damage to the right front. Briscoe recovered to run third, after his crew replaced the rear bumper cover on his No. 98 Mustang, but Bell had to settle for a 12th-place finish.

Bell, however, retained the series lead by 11 points over Custer and 12 over third-place Reddick, as the “Big Three” remained comfortably above the cut line for the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Justin Allgaier ran fifth and is fourth in the standings, two points ahead of Briscoe.

Austin Cindric’s championship hopes took a severe blow when the driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford tangled with the No. 18 Toyota of Harrison Burton on Lap 70. After an intense exchange of positions moments before, Cindric tagged the right rear of Burton’s car, turning it sideways.

 

But Burton remained in Cindric’s path, and both cars sustained damage when they collided in the middle of the track. Burton retired with a broken right front suspension. Ultimately, with a succession of unscheduled pit stops, Cindric finished 25th, six laps down, and dropped to eighth in the Playoff standings, 30 points below the cutoff for the Championship 4.

Jeremy Clements, Justin Haley, John Hunter Nemechek, Ryan Sieg and Ross Chastain finished sixth through 10th, respectively.

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