Hamlin Shakes Up Playoffs, Championship 4 are Set

NASCAR and pressure go hand and hand. There’s pressure every single week for 26 weeks of the regular season and then for another 10 high-intensity weeks during the playoffs. However, where the stress ramps up the most is during the final 2 races of the season — the championship race, obviously, and the cut-off race just prior, when 8 title-eligible drivers become only 4. This season was no different with almost all 4 drivers on the negative side of the cutline in must-win situations.

LAP 1: Pole-sitter, Kyle Busch broke away when the checkered flag flew along with Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin. Behind them, the field fanned out 5 and 6 wide thanks to the wide Turn 1 corner and ISM’s “if it’s paved, you can go there” rule.  Sixth-place starter Chase Elliott jumped up to 4th.

LAP 42: Kyle Busch was setting a blistering pace, lapping all but 19 cars. However, as Busch started to catch faster cars and had more trouble passing, 2nd-place Denny Hamlin began to catch up, closing the 3.4-second deficit down to just 1.2s.

CAUTION – LAP 66: After being put a lap down, Ricky Stenhouse Jr in the #17 had a right-front tire go down and shot straight into the wall in Turn 4. Stenhouse limped around the outside lane causing the caution to come out.

LAP 70: The race restarted for a 5-lap shootout for the end of the stage. Several cars had stayed out while the majority of front runners pitted. Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott claimed P1 and P2 respectively.

STAGE 1 END – LAP 75: Hamlin won the stage, temporarily putting him ahead in the playoffs standings. Elliott finished second, followed by Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, and Kyle Larson in the top 5.

LAP 83: When the green flag waved to start the second stage, most drivers dove down to the apron in Turn 1 for a better take off. Joey Logano on the other hand, who restarted 4th, stayed on the high line and drove around everyone to take the lead. Logano pulled away to dominate the entire stage.

LAP 130: A tight battle began between 2nd-place Chase Elliott and 3rd place Denny Hamlin. Where Hamlin was quicker on the straightaways, Elliott was faster and smoother in the corners, making for a close back-and-forth fight. Hamlin became aggressive towards the end of the stage and bumped the left-rear quarterpanel of Elliott’s #9 Camaro.

STAGE 2 END – LAP 150: Logano dominated to win the stage, proving his #22 Ford Mustang had incredible speed. Hamlin took second place right at the line. Elliott, Kyle Busch, and Ryan Blaney completed the top 5.

CAUTION – LAP 165: Chase Elliott’s horrible luck continued when the left rear tire blew in Turn 3. The #9 spun backwards into the outside wall and destroyed the rear end. Elliott’s chances to race for a championship were over and he was eliminated from the playoffs.

LAP 177: With 139 laps to go, Denny Hamlin took the lead on the restart and pulled away from the field.  Hamlin was almost in his own zip code as he drove to a 7-second lead over Kyle Busch. Once Hamlin was in the lead, it pushed defending series champion, Joey Logano, out of the top 4 in the point standings.

LAP 207: Joey Logano’s dominate car quickly began to fade as he was passed for 3rd place by his teammate Ryan Blaney, then by Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick. Logano was forced to stay out as they had not reached the pit window yet.

LAP 238: Logano had fallen all the way to 12th place and was lapped by Denny Hamlin, which essentially put an end to Logano’s hope of running for back-to-back titles.

LAP 246: Green-flag pit stops began with Ryan Blaney, who was quickly followed by the rest of the leaders. Hamlin cycled back to the lead, somehow further ahead than when he pitted, suddenly 13 seconds in front of Kyle Busch

LAP 280: After his pit stop, Logano started to make up ground, posting speeds a full 2mph faster than Hamlin. However, Logano was still one lap down.

CAUTION – LAP 302: The third and final incident-related caution of the day came out for the #36 of John Hunter Nemechek, who slammed the wall in Turn 1. The #36 is usually piloted by Matt Tifft, who is a brain tumor survivor but experienced a sudden seizure in Martinsville three weeks ago.  He has been undergoing tests ever since. Thus, Nemechek was called to fill the seat until the end of the season.

LAP 307: The restart posed no threat to Hamlin’s victory as he once again pulled away when the green flag flew. Despite that Kyle Busch, his teammate, was obviously faster and on four fresh tires, Hamlin remained in the lead.

CHECKERED FLAG – LAP 312: Denny Hamlin crossed the line to win for the 6th time this season, locking himself into the final 4 for the second time in his career. Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson, and Chase Elliott were all eliminated from the playoffs.

The Championship 4 Drivers: Martin Truex Jr, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin. 

RESULTS:

  1. Denny Hamlin
  2. Kyle Busch
  3. Ryan Blaney
  4. Kyle Larson
  5. Kevin Harvick
  6. Martin Truex Jr
  7. Erik Jones
  8. Clint Bowyer
  9. Joey Logano
  10. Brad Keselowski
  11. Kurt Busch
  12. Paul Menard
  13. Matt DiBenedetto
  14. Jimmie Johnson
  15. Daniel Suarez
  16. Chris Buescher
  17. William Byron
  18. Ryan Newman
  19. Ricky Stenhouse Jr
  20. Ty Dillon
  21. Daniel Hemric
  22. Aric Almirola
  23. Alex Bowman
  24. Austin Dillon
  25. Bubba Wallace
  26. Ryan Preece
  27. John H Nemechek
  28. Ross Chastain
  29. JJ Yeley
  30. Michael McDowell
  31. Garrett Smithley
  32. Bayley Currey
  33. Landon Cassill
  34. Joe Nemechek
  35. Corey LaJoie
  36. David Ragan
  37. Reed Sorenson
  38. Joey Gase
  39. Chase Elliott

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