Denny Hamlin became the first driver to earn a spot in the 12-driver ‘Contender’ round of NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup after taking an unexpected win at Chicagoland Speedway Sunday night.
You’d be forgiven for picking pole-sitter Kevin Harvick as the favorite to win Sunday night’s MyAfibRisk.com 400. He wasn’t able to hold his lead for very long, leading only 10 laps, but stayed near the front of the 43-car field for the first half of the race. Things began to go wrong for the Stewart-Haas racing driver on Lap 135, though, when he and the No. 48 car of Jimmie Johnson made contact, sending his No. 4 car into the wall and puncturing the left rear tire.
“I got a pretty good restart, and obviously, the 22 (Joey Logano) and 48 got a good run, and I just held my line and the 48 just slammed into the side of my door,” a frustrated Harvick told NASCAR.com post-race. “That was pretty much it.”
Hamlin, who started near the back of the grid after qualifying 29th, was a non-factor in the race until about halfway through. He spun out on Lap 2, immediately putting him a lap down, however he got the wave around following a caution and began his comeback after a Lap 129 restart.
After a late race caution for debris was put out, Hamlin elected to stay out on old tires, putting him and JGR teammate Carl Edwards in first and second for the Lap 263 restart. When the green flag came back out, Hamlin easily pulled away from Edwards, leading the closing laps and finishing 0.963 seconds ahead of him.
“We got a great restart, and I just held it wide open through (Turns) 1 and 2, and it stuck,” Hamlin said. “We were able to get in that clean air and take off.”
Edwards finished second, with Kurt Busch taking third to round out the podium. Ryan Newman posted a strong fourth place finish – his best since Bristol in April, and JGR’s Matt Kenseth came home fifth to put a third Toyota in the top five.
The next round of the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup will kick off next weekend, when NASCAR heads to New Hampshire for the Sylvania 300. Click here for full results from Chicagoland, and here for a schedule of New Hampshrie’s NASCAR festivities.