Denny Hamlin stages dominating performance to win his way into Championship 4

AVONDALE, ARIZONA - NOVEMBER 10: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, takes the checkered flag to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bluegreen Vacations 500 at ISM Raceway on November 10, 2019 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Denny Hamlin began the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series season by winning the first race of the year the Daytona 500 for the second time.  After Sunday he will now have a chance to win the final race of the season and even a bigger prize, a Cup series title.

Hamlin staged a dominating performance in Phoenix leading a race high 143 laps for this sixth win of 2019 and the 36th of his career. None of those wins however were as big as Sunday.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver came into the day below the cutoff to advance to the Championship 4 a week after a mistake at Texas saw him spin, finish 28th, lose 44 points and fall below the cutline. Sunday, Hamlin took the lead just before the end of the first stage grabbing the lead with 2 laps to go and holding on to win Stage 1. And eventually the race.

“I can’t believe it,” Hamlin said.  “This race team worked so hard this whole year.  They deserve to be there.  I put them in a bad hole last week.  I told them today in the meeting, I said, I’m going to give everything I’ve got to make up for the mistake I made last week.  That’s all I got.”

After a such a dominating performance, Hamlin at a lead of over 12 seconds at one point, he had to survive a final three lap shootout after the race’s fifth and final caution brought out when John Hunter Nemechek hit the wall on lap 304.  The leaders, led by Hamlin pitted and Hamlin along with Ryan Blaney, also needing win, both took only two tires and lined up side by side for the final restart.  It was no contest as Hamlin was able to take the lead while his teammate Kyle Busch grabbed and finished second.

“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.”

Hamlin’s win, and advancement to the Championship 4 came at the expense of defending Cup champion Joey Logano. Logano came into the day above the cutline won Stage 2 and led 93 laps. But he faded late in the going finishing the day ninth after going a lap down.  It left the 2018 Cup champion wondering what had happened.

“I went from a car that could lead and win a stage and run really well,” Logano said. ”And from what they told me, it was an air pressure adjustment made it go from a winning car to can’t stay on the lead lap, and one of the tightest things I’ve ever driven.  I don’t really understand it.  It doesn’t make any sense.  You change tires and change a half pint of air, that sounds ridiculous.  It is what it is.  Just wasn’t our year to make it, I guess.  But we’ll fight for fifth, I guess, in points for this year, and we’ll move on.  It stinks.  It hurts a little bit, but we’ll live.”

“Everything is going to be okay,” he added.  “Life is a lot worse in other ways for some.  We’re still fortunate to be here and get to do what we love.  It’s a bummer for sure.  It doesn’t take anything away from that, but it’s just part of the game sometimes.”

For Chase Elliott, his title hopes ended on lap 167. At the bottom of the 8 Playoff drivers, Elliott ran as high as second finishing there in Stage 1 and third in Stage 2. But shortly after the start of the third and final stage, and shortly after racing hard with Denny Hamlin for the second spot,  Elliott’s Chevrolet appeared to lose a left rear tire; the car spun and impacted the wall hard between turns 1 and 2 on lap 167, ending his day, his race, and his hope for a championship run in 2019. He finished with a DNF in 39th.

“It’s just a continuation of our first two weeks, unfortunately,” Elliott said. “It was really tough in traffic to catch guys and then pass and whatnot. But I feel like we were in a good position to run solid. I’m not sure why we had a tire go down. I think that’s what happened, at least; it seemed like it”

Blaney finished third but fell short of making the Championship 4.

“It’s really hard for the guy on the bottom on the front row to accelerate and turn down the hill,” Blaney said.  “It’s the way it’s shaped.  It’s kind of tough, especially on two.  But I don’t know, you can always get a better start, right?  I thought I got an okay start, but the 18 got a better one and got inside of me, and honestly the top is so dominant, especially if you’re on two, you’re kind of just sliding up from the bottom, and he was obviously the best car all day.  Just needed the lead and I might have been able to pinch him through 1 and 2, and you never know.  But it’s not enough.”

Kyle Larson came into Sunday below the cutline and even his fourth-place run could do nothing to advance.

Kevin Harvick, in for winning at Texas was fifth, Martin Truex Jr. who opened the final round with a win at Martinsville to lock himself in the Championship 4 was sixth.

Erik Jones, Clint Bowyer were seventh and eighth respectively ahead of Logano in ninth.

Brad Keselowski rounded out the top 10.

With Hamlin joining Truex and Kyle Busch in the Championship 4 the final race for the title will have three cars from Joe Gibbs Racing, the first time an organization has had three cars in the final 4.

“There’s still work to be done,” Hamlin said.  “Doesn’t guarantee a championship.  Gives us a chance.  Live to fight another day.  That’s all you can ask for.”

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race Results Bluegreen Vacations 500

ISM Raceway

Avondale, Arizona

Sunday, November 10, 2019

1. (3)  Denny Hamlin (P), Toyota, 312.

2. (1)  Kyle Busch (P), Toyota, 312.

3. (10)  Ryan Blaney (P), Ford, 312.

4. (5)  Kyle Larson (P), Chevrolet, 312.

5. (7)  Kevin Harvick (P), Ford, 312.

6. (4)  Martin Truex Jr. (P), Toyota, 312.

7. (9)  Erik Jones, Toyota, 312.

8. (13)  Clint Bowyer, Ford, 312.

9. (2)  Joey Logano (P), Ford, 312.

10. (12)  Brad Keselowski, Ford, 312.

11. (8)  Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 312.

12. (19)  Paul Menard, Ford, 312.

13. (16)  Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 312.

14. (22)  Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 312.

15. (15)  Daniel Suarez, Ford, 312.

16. (17)  Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 311.

17. (18)  William Byron, Chevrolet, 311.

18. (20)  Ryan Newman, Ford, 311.

19. (24)  Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 311.

20. (29)  Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 311.

21. (27)  Daniel Hemric #, Chevrolet, 311.

22. (11)  Aric Almirola, Ford, 310.

23. (14)  Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 310.

24. (28)  Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 309.

25. (23)  Bubba Wallace, Chevrolet, 308.

26. (25)  Ryan Preece #, Chevrolet, 307.

27. (26)  John Hunter Nemechek(i), Ford, 307.

28. (32)  Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, 307.

29. (39)  JJ Yeley(i), Ford, 306.

30. (21)  Michael McDowell, Ford, 306.

31. (35)  Garrett Smithley(i), Chevrolet, 304.

32. (34)  Bayley Currey(i), Chevrolet, 304.

33. (33)  Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 303.

34. (36)  Joe Nemechek(i), Chevrolet, 296.

35. (31)  Corey LaJoie, Ford, 294.

36. (30)  David Ragan, Ford, Suspension, 261.

37. (37)  Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, Brakes, 226.

38. (38)  Joey Gase(i), Toyota, Engine, 170.

39. (6)  Chase Elliott (P), Chevrolet, Accident, 165.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  111.429 mph.

Time of Race:  2 Hrs, 48 Mins, 0 Secs. Margin of Victory:  .377 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  5 for 32 laps.

Lead Changes:  8 among 5 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   K. Busch (P) 1-69;B. Keselowski 70-72;D. Hamlin (P) 73-82;J. Logano (P) 83-153;D. Hamlin (P) 154;J. Logano (P) 155-176;D. Hamlin (P) 177-246;K. Busch 247-250;D. Hamlin (P) 251-312.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  Denny Hamlin (P) 4 times for 143 laps; Joey Logano (P) 2 times for 93 laps; Kyle Busch (P) 1 time for 69 laps; Kurt Busch 1 time for 4 laps; Brad Keselowski 1 time for 3 laps.

Stage 1 Top Ten: 11,9,18,22,42,2,12,24,4,1

Stage 2 Top Ten: 22,11,9,18,12,19,4,42,2,1