Denny Hamlin Wins Thursday Night Cup Race at Kansas Speedway

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Denny Hamlin passed leader Kevin Harvick with 13 laps to go then held off a hard-charging Brad Keselowski to win the Super Start Batteries 400 presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts NASCAR Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway Thursday night.

It was a Cup Series-high fifth victory of the season for Hamlin, his second consecutive win at the 1.5-mile venue (after winning last October) and the 42nd trip to Victory Lane of his career. His margin of victory over Keselowski was .510 seconds. Harvick slipped to fourth while Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammates – Martin Truex Jr. and Erik Jones – were third and fifth, respectively.  Hamlin now has recorded five or more wins in a season on four occasions in his career, including two straight after taking the checkered flag six times in 2019.

“I saw him (Harvick) get loose, and I kind saw blood in the water there, so we just ran him down (and made the pass),” said Hamlin. “I thought the 2 car (Keselowski) was really fast. We just got it right when it really mattered. This is how you win them. We tried to keep track position at all costs and were able to keep it in clean air. Proud of this team. We are really doing a lot of things well and looking forward to getting to the playoffs.”

“I thought Denny and I were probably pretty close to equal the second half of the night,” said Keselowski. “It was just a matter of who got out in front. We didn’t get out in front on the restarts there and he was able to take advantage and bring home the win. All in all, it was still a really good day.”

Hamlin led four times for a race-high 57 laps. His average speed was 121.832 mph. There were 22 lead changes among nine drivers. Rounding out the top 10 were Aric Almirola, Cole Custer, Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch and William Byron. The fourth Gibbs driver – Kyle Busch – rebounded from a late scrape with the wall to come home 11th while NASCAR’s most popular driver, Chase Elliott, was 12th.  Custer’s seventh-place standing made him the highest finishing rookie in tonight’s field.

With this year marking the 20th season of racing at Kansas Speedway, Hamlin became the fourth driver to win consecutive races at the track, joining Jeff Gordon (2001-02), Matt Kenseth (2012-13) and Martin Truex Jr. (2017).  For Hamlin, tonight’s victory was important in that it ended a string of three straight races in which he placed 12th or lower, including finishes of 28th and 20th.

“We want to bounce back and it’s not like we ran bad by any means,” Hamlin said. “Indy, we were leading the race and blew a tire with six (laps) to go and then Texas, we’re going to come out with the lead and had that late-race caution that trapped us a lap down. We’re really doing a lot of things well. Kentucky is kind of the only outlier where we really didn’t run that well. Looking forward to downloading this and figuring out what we can do to be better.”

Busch won Stage One, his first of the season, as well his initial one at Kansas, earning him his first 2020 NASCAR Playoff point. Keselowski held off his Team Penske teammate Ryan Blaney to claim Stage Two for his fifth stage win of the season.

There were 11 cautions for 47 laps, with two accidents coming back-to-back on restarts that took out many contenders. The first occurred on lap 176 of 267 when two-time Kansas winner Joey Logano slowed in turn two, setting off a chain reaction incident that included Jimmie Johnson, Matt DiBenedetto, Harvick and Austin Dillon, last weekend’s winner at Texas. Logano and DiBenedetto immediately retired to the garage while Johnson’s wounded car would only make it 200 laps, resulting in a 32nd-place effort.

Six laps later on the lap-182 restart, Ryan Newman and Christopher Bell got together down the backstretch, sending Ryan Preece into the inside SAFER Barrier and Chris Buescher in the back of teammate Newman. Both Preece and Buescher were eliminated while Newman and Bell continued but with battered machines.

With his end result, Johnson, the seven-time Cup champion who is retiring from full-time driving at the end of the season, slipped to 18th in the playoff standings. He is now sandwiched in between 17th-place Dillon and 19th-place Cole Custer, who both have won races recently and are already guaranteed a spot in the 16-driver playoff field. The series has seven more races before the playoffs begin at Darlington Raceway on Sept. 6.

Defensive tackle Chris Jones of the defending Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs served as the event’s Grand Marshal and gave the command for drivers to start their engines while Platinum Country star RaeLynn performed the national anthem virtually prior to the race.

Racing continues with doubleheaders on both Friday and Saturday at Kansas Speedway, consisting of the following:

Friday, July 24 : NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 200 (200 miles)                        6:00 pm (FS1)

Friday, July 24 : ARCA Menards Series Dawn 150 (150 miles)                                                                                             9:00 pm (FS1)

Saturday, July 25: NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series e.p.t. 200 TM (200 miles)                                                         12:30 pm (FS1)

Saturday, July 25: NASCAR Xfinity Series Kansas Lottery 250 (250 miles)                                                                        4:00 pm (NBCSN)    

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