Denny Hamlin rebounded from early race struggles to earn a fifth-place finish and his spot in the Final Four Championship Round at Homestead Miami Speedway next Sunday afternoon. Matt Kenseth was strong all day and earned a third-place finish in today’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway but unfortunately it wasn’t enough to advance to the championship round. Meanwhile a mid-race accident left Busch back in 34th.
Kenseth started the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota in the fifth position and was consistent throughout the first half of the race as he ran inside the top five. He would restart seventh on lap 192. A flurry of cautions would follow over the next 20 laps but Kenseth would manage to avoid any major issues and remained inside the top 10. He was back inside the top five and came down for a two-tire change under caution which allowed him to restart third with 69 laps to go. Kenseth would report that the car was becoming looser on the track and he dropped to fourth when a caution came out with 25 laps remaining. Crew chief Jason Ratcliff would make the call to remain out and Kenseth restarted fourth with 21 laps to go. He would go to third before another caution came out with 16 remaining. Kenseth would hold that position to the finish but unfortunately with Kevin Harvick’s victory automatically sending him into the finals, the Dollar General team would come up just three points short of advancing.
Hamlin started his No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota from the pole and led the opening 24 laps before relinquishing the top spot to the 4 car on lap 25. A caution on lap 32 would bring the leaders down pit road and Hamlin would come out in third just as he had entered. However as he got back on the track and in position for the restart he would radio in to his crew that he needed to come back down pit road because something was wrong with the car. Once he came back to his pit stall the team found a flat right rear tire as the source of the problem. Hamlin would restart back in 36th and managed to drive his way back up to 28, but his progress would stall out on the long green flag run as the handling on his FedEx Camry struggled back in traffic. Hamlin would eventually go a lap down and although he managed to pick up the lucky dog on a lap-97 caution, he would still struggle back in traffic. He would go a lap down again on lap 163 and was running 22nd at lap 200 when another caution for debris followed. A wreck on the restart would bring another caution out on lap 207 and Hamlin would earn the lucky dog a second time and return to the lead lap. This time Hamlin managed to gain track position and was running 12th when a caution came out with 75 laps remaining. The FedEx team would make a two-tire change and picked up another six spots on pit road to restart sixth with 69 laps to go. He would race patiently in 10th with just under 40 to go hoping to remain inside the top 12 to earn his place into the Championship Round next week at Homestead. He was running 11th when a caution came out with just 25 laps remaining. Crew chief Darian Grubb would make the call to bring Hamlin down pit road for two tires and a chance to loosen up his tight handling race car. While some of the leaders made the call to remain out on the track Hamlin was still able to restart eighth. The FedEx Camry was up to fifth before another caution with 16 laps left. Hamlin would hold that position to the finish to complete an amazing comeback and claim his place into the finals.
Busch started the No. 18 Banfield Pet Hospital Toyota from the sixth position and was consistently in the top ten throughout the first half of the race. Busch worked hard to manage the tires on each run and continued to maintain a spot in the top ten as the race went past the lap 200 mark. He would restart in sixth on lap 212 when he got loose and spun up the track making contact with the outside wall. As he slid back down the track the 15 car would cut across the front of his Banfield Pet Hospital Camry causing significant damage to the front of the car. Busch would come down pit road for repairs. He would go two laps down in the process and was running back in 29th with 75 laps to go. He would go on to finish 34th.
Kevin Harvick won the race followed by Jeff Gordon, Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, and Hamlin rounded out the top five. There were 12 cautions for a total of 58 laps and eight lead changes among six different drivers.
Today’s race was the final of three races in the Eliminator Round of 8 under the new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chase for the Championship format. Hamlin’s fifth-place finish secured his position, but unfortunately Kenseth’s third-place effort today was not enough and left him three points shy of advancing. Joining Hamlin to compete for the Championship next Sunday in Miami will be today’s race winner Kevin Harvick, along with Joey Logano, and Ryan Newman.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion will be crowned next Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Live coverage from Miami will begin on ESPN Sunday, November 16 at 2 PM ET (race begins at 3 PM ET). The race will also be carried on Sirius NASCAR radio channel 90.