Joe Gibbs Racing opened the Chase for the Sprint Cup Series Championship in the same way it concluded the NASCAR regular season: with a trip to victory lane. This time it was Denny Hamlin’s turn to claim the checkered flag in today’s MyAFibRisk.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. All three JGR teams would join their teammate in the top ten today with Carl Edwards claiming second, Matt Kenseth fifth and Kyle Busch, who led a race-high 121 laps, finished ninth.
The win automatically advances Hamlin into the second round of the Chase regardless of his finishes the next two weeks in New Hampshire and Dover. With today’s results, JGR now holds the top four spots in the standings, with Kenseth the current leader among Chase contenders, while Hamlin is second, Edwards third and Busch fourth.
Today’s win continued JGR’s recent dominance in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The organization has now won the last three Sprint Cup Series race and nine of the last 12.
With qualifying rained out the field was set based on Friday’s first practice times. That left Hamlin to start his No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota back in 29th and he would face adversity right from the beginning when he spun on the bottom of the track on just the second lap of the day. Hamlin would fall a lap down after making a trip down pit road for four fresh tires. A lap 124 caution would allow Hamlin to use the wave around to get back on the lead lap and then another quick caution on lap 130 would allow him to hit pit road again for fresh tires. From there he would drive his way to the front of the field. He would lead for the first time on lap 240 but it was a final restart with five laps to go that Hamlin made his move for the win. Despite remaining out on the track following a caution and restarting third on older tires than many of the other leaders, Hamlin was able to drive his way to the front and held on for the final few laps for the win.
Carl Edwards started the No. 19 STANLEY Toyota in the 14th position. A pit road speeding penalty on lap 52 would force Edwards to serve a pass through penalty on lap 56 and eventually it would cause the 19 to go a lap down to the leaders. Fortunately a lap 124 caution would fall just at the right time and Edwards was able to use the wave around to get back on the lead lap after the leaders hit pit road. Another quick caution on lap 130 would allow Edwards to hit road once again for fresh tires. He would restart in 14th on lap 134. From there the No. 19 STANLEY Toyota began his climb back toward the front of the field as he entered the top ten. He would take his only lead of the day on lap 188 for six laps before a caution brought him down pit road once again. A late caution would leave Edwards to restart seventh with five laps remaining. Fighting for every spot in the Chase, the restart was aggressive up front and Edwards was able to go low and make it stick for an impressive second-place finish.
Matt Kenseth started the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota from the 12th position and would spend much of the afternoon battling tight-handling conditions as he raced just inside the top 15 for much of the afternoon. Kenseth would manage to battle all afternoon to keep his spot on the lead lap while crew chief Jason Ratcliff and the Dollar General team made adjustments to help improve the handle on the No. 20 Camry. Kenseth would restart for a final time with five laps to go in the 13th position and managed to make it stick on the bottom of the track as he drove his way into the top ten and secured an impressive fifth-place finish.
Kyle Busch started the No. 18 M&Ms Crispy Toyota in seventh and quickly advanced toward the front of the field taking his first lead of the day on lap 46. He would manage to hold that lead for the majority of the next 125 laps. He would lead four different times on the afternoon for a race-high 121 laps. The M&M’s Crispy Toyota would become tight and Busch would drop to third late in the race. A caution with eight laps to go would bring the No. 18 Camry back down pit road for four fresh tires and he would line up fifth for a final restart behind several cars that made the decision to remain out on the track under the caution. Aggressive racing at the front of the field would leave Busch in a four-wide situation following the restart and he would make contact with the outside wall. Busch was able to race to the finish but had to take care to do so and the result was a solid ninth-place run.
Hamlin captured the win, followed by Edwards, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, and Kenseth out the top five. There were six cautions for a total of 28 laps and 17 lead changes among 10 different drivers.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series continue the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship next weekend in New Hampshire. NBCSN will provide live broadcast coverage of the race starting at 2 PM ET (race begins at 2:15 PM ET) on Sunday, September 27.