Denny Hamlin led Joe Gibbs Racing with a third-place run in tonight’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 from Kentucky Speedway, while teammates Kyle Busch and Joey Logano finished 10th and 22nd respectively.
Hamlin started his No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota third and raced inside the top five through the first half of the race as the team worked to free him up from tight handling conditions. A tremendous pit stop by the FedEx crew put Hamlin in second for a restart on lap 130 and he was able to just get past his teammate Busch to gain the lead for the first time on the night. Hamlin would go on to lead the next 56 laps. Hamlin would race among the leaders the rest of the way, but was forced to conserve fuel on the final run which limited his ability to catch leader Brad Keselowski. He would go on to finish with a strong third-place effort.
Busch started his No. 18 M&Ms Red, White & Blue Toyota in second but wasted no time in taking the top spot as he went to the lead on the opening lap. Busch, who entered the night as the defending race champion, was the dominant car through the first half of the race as he led 116 laps. He would restart in the top spot on lap 130, but minor contact with the wall while racing for the lead would cause him to lose a couple of spots. Busch still managed to remain inside the top five. With about 80 laps remaining Busch would radio in that it felt as if a shock had broken in the rear of the car. He managed to keep the car on the track running in sixth, but while trying to save fuel prior to what the team hoped would be the final stop of the night, Busch would run out of gas and have to coast into the pits. A caution would come out at the same time and the M&Ms team would use the opportunity to make repairs to the rear of his car. Unfortunately as he returned to the track for the restart he found his right rear tire had gone flat. That would force him to pit yet again for right side tires. The team would use the remaining caution laps to continue working on the car, all the while keeping Busch on the lead lap. Once the race restarted Busch found himself back in 18th, but was impressive over the final green flag run as he drove his way forward once again to earn a top-ten finish.
Logano started the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota 18th and battled through tight handling conditions through the first half of the race as he battled for track position. He was running inside the top 15 on lap 161 when he would receive contact from behind by the No. 39 car which pushed him down into the No. 15 Toyota of Clint Bowyer. He managed to avoid any major damage to the car, but the contact did knock in his left rear fender and his No. 20 Camry was suddenly hard to handle. Unfortunately there was no immediate caution for the team to get his Camry back to where it was running before the caution and Logano would drift back outside the top 20. He would eventually lose a lap to the leaders. Logano would race his way into the lucky dog position, but unfortunately there was no caution to allow him back on the lead lap and he would have to settle for a 22nd-place finish.
Brad Keselowski earned the victory, with Kasey Kahne second, Hamlin third, Dale Earnhardt, Jr fourth and Jeff Gordon rounded out the top five. There were only four cautions for a total of 24 laps with 17 lead changes among six different drivers.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will be in Daytona for the Coke Zero 400 Saturday night July 7. Coverage of the race from Daytona will be broadcast live by TNT starting at 7:30 PM ET (pre-race show starts at 6:30 PM ET). You can also keep track of all the action by following @joegibbsracing on twitter.
Joe Gibbs Racing wishes everyone a happy and safe Fourth of July holiday.