Denny Hamlin Wins At ISM Raceway And Advances To The Championship 4by Hunter Thomas November 10, 2019 0 comments
AVONDALE, Ariz. – Denny Hamlin dominated and won Sunday’s Bluegreen Vacations 500 at ISM Raceway to advance to the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
In front of a sold-out crowd, Hamlin piloted his Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota to Victory Lane after surviving a late-race restart and holding off his teammate, Kyle Busch for the win. Hamlin led a race high of 143 laps throughout the afternoon en route to his sixth win of the season.
“One of the best cars of my career, I can tell you that,” Hamlin said. “Fast car. But, yeah, I pushed for all I had. I mean, that’s all I got. Once we got the big lead there, a little over 10 seconds, I just kind of sat there. I got to thinking about if the caution does come out, I want to lap as many as I can. That’s all we had. So proud of this whole FedEx racing team, proud of Toyota for locking up the manufacturer’s championship this week. Toyota, the Jordan Brand, Little Big Burger, the entire FedEx group for an unbelievable team.”
Hamlin entered the weekend on the outside looking in to the Championship 4, so he had to win on Sunday in order to advance to the final round of the NASCAR Playoffs. A caution on lap 304 forced the leaders to hit pit road for one last time on Sunday. Hamlin entered pit road in first and after taking just two tires, he kept the top spot; however, Ryan Blaney also only took two tires and moved into the second position, followed by Busch.
“I was definitely not wanting to see that last caution,” No. 11 crew chief, Chris Gabehart said. “I would have been great with a nice, boring, walk‑off home run. It did not turn out that way. Forced to make a really tough decision. Again, I’ve done it several times now. Going to have to come up with a different play. Winners want the ball, and Denny Hamlin is a winner. So I’m going to give him front row restart and let him get it done, and he did it again.”
On the final restart with just three laps to go, Blaney, who also needed a win to advance, restarted alongside of Hamlin on the front row. When the field took the green flag, Busch who restarted third, challenged Blaney for the second position and forced him to block on the extreme low side of the track along the frontstretch. Hamlin solidified the lead entering Turn 2, while Busch moved into the second position, followed by Blaney.
“The caution was the most nervous moment,” Hamlin said. “I was counting down, I have a clock inside the car and I was looking at the clock and thinking, 20 more minutes of laps, 10 more minutes of laps, five more minutes of laps. I knew it was enevetable. I’ve been through so much at this race track. Obviously in 2010 and the downfall of our championship run there to get it all back 10 years later, this is special to me.”
Kyle Busch held on to a second-place finish, and he also earned a spot to advance to the Championship 4 as well. The runner-up effort marked Busch’s 16th top-five finish of the season. The 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion will now head to Homestead-Miami Speedway looking to claim his second title.
“Just didn’t quite have enough,” Busch said. “I knew the 11 was the best car in practice. I knew we were going to be about third to fifth. We were second. Guys did a great job, this M&M Camry was good. Thanks to everybody at JGR, Stanley, Toyota, TRD. It’s cool to have a chance to go race for a championship. Just keep coming up short.”
Although Blaney finished fifth at Martinsville, eighth at Texas and third on Sunday, that wasn’t enough to advance to the Championship 4.
“Just a matter of gaining bonus points throughout the year,” Blaney said. “I look back and that’s the one thing that hurt us. We didn’t win races throughout the year in the regular season. That hurts you. You don’t have any cushion to lay back on.”
Kyle Larson’s fourth-place finish also wasn’t enough for him to advance to the final round of the NASCAR Playoffs either.
“I just ‑‑ I think in ’17 we had a lot of playoff points going into the playoffs and that was nice, we just got eliminated I think in the first round that year or whatever it may have been with a blown engine, and this year I came into it with like four points,” Larson said. “So I think what I learned is that you need to have a really good regular season if you really want to have a shot to win the championship unless you’re going to go out here and win, because points still really matter.”
Kevin Harvick rounded out the top-five, followed by Martin Truex Jr., Erik Jones, Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski.
Throughout the afternoon, there were five cautions for 32 laps.
While several drivers didn’t make the Championship 4 due to not accumulating enough points, Chase Elliott’s title hopes came to an end after he crashed hard into the outside wall in Turn 1 to bring out the caution on lap 167.
The final race of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season will be held at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, November 17. Truex, Harvick, Busch and Hamlin will battle it out for the series title. Live coverage of the Ford EcoBoost 400 will broadcast on NBC and the Motor Racing Network (MRN) at 3 p.m. ET.
Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/Getty Images