Hamlin Advances to NASCAR Playoffs Round of 8 with Top-Five at Kansas
Denny Hamlin finished fifth in the #11 FedEx Express Toyota in Sunday's Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway, securing a Playoff spot for the FedEx team in the Round of 8, and a shot at a spot in the Championship 4.
Starting fifth, Hamlin struggled with a loose FedEx car in Stage 1, but pit strategy gave Hamlin fresh tires toward the end of the Stage and allowed him to race up to third just prior to a caution that ended the segment, securing 8 Stage points for the FedEx team.
Stage 2 was a different story, as Hamlin and the FedEx team gambled and stayed out on old tires for a one-lap shootout restart at the end of the segment. The gamble paid off with Hamlin claiming the Stage 2 win, racking up 10 additional Stage points. However, the gamble forced the team to pit prior to the final Stage, and during his visit to pit road Hamlin was penalized for speeding and had to start the Stage at the tail end of the field.
With 90 laps remaining, Hamlin was running 17th when a flurry of cautions began, during a restart with 68 laps to go, a multi-car accident at the front of the field almost blocked the track, but Hamlin methodically picked his way through the carnage and came out the other side in 10th position.
Hamlin lined up third for the final restart with 25 laps to go, but with the car a little better on long runs, Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott took advantage of the situation and drove past Hamlin, dropping him back to fifth as Martin Truex Jr. claimed the trophy in the 400-mile event.
“We definitely got our car better during the race, but were still a little bit off, said Hamlin. “Just fought a terminal condition that we couldn't quite get fixed on pit road, but proud of the whole FedEx Toyota team for giving me something I could battle up front with there for a little bit. Just need to get a little faster on the short run and we'll be fine.”
The finish was Hamlin's 14th top-five of the season and he now sits sixth in the 2017 NASCAR Playoff standings, only three points behind Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick who are tied.
The four drivers eliminated from the Playoffs following Kansas were Kyle Larson, Matt Kenseth, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Jamie McMurray.
The Series returns to action next Sunday, October 29th at Martinsville Speedway for the first of three races in the NASCAR Playoffs Round of 8.