As we now head to the Round of 8, Denny Hamlin has emerged as the championship frontrunner in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Hamlin, was victorious in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at the Kansas Speedway as he led a race-high 153 of 277 laps en route to his fifth victory of the season and 36th of his career.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver took over the lead on Lap 126 and would lead 142 of the final 150 lap in becoming a two-time winner on the 1.5-mile track. It was also his second win on 1.5-mile tracks in general this season as the Virginia native also won earlier this season at the Texas Motor Speedway in his No. 11 Toyota.
Hamlin, heads the first race of the third round next weekend at the Martinsville (VA) Speedway with four top five finishes in his last five starts on the season. He had to endure a stiff challenge from his JGR teammate of Kyle Busch who was closing the gap on him in the end before a caution for Ryan Blaney flew with 15 laps of regulation. Then, he’d hold everyone off on two more restarts, for his 10th win since the 2016 season.
Chase Elliott would finish runner-up in his No. 9 Chevrolet for his fourth top four finish in his last five tries at Kansas. Elliott, also has four top eight finishes in six playoff starts this season which was a big part as to why he advances on to the Round of 8 himself.
See, Elliott came into this weekend 22 points below the cutoff line but he was helped by Brad Keselowski’s struggles from the second stage on. Elliott, scored 15 stage points compared to Keselowski’s five. Part of that is because Keselowski had contact with Erik Jones on the Lap 120 restart and forced damage upon his No. 2 Ford. Keselowski, would finish 16th in Stage 2 while Elliott backed up his second place run in Stage 1 with a fifth place run in Stage 2. Keselowski, would ride from 15th on back for the rest of the day and despite having a few late race chances to remain in the playoffs, he fell hard on the final restart in the second overtime while Elliott would finish runner-up. He advances onto the next round by three points over Keselowski.
Busch, would finish third in his No. 18 Toyota for his ninth top 10 finish over his last 10 starts in the Sunflower State, seven of which being in the top five. He was runner-up in this race last year to Elliott and earned just his second top five finish in his last seven starts on the season.
Kurt Busch finished fourth in his No. 1 Chevrolet while William Byron rounded out the top five in his No. 24 Chevrolet.
The race was run really clean for a majority of it. We saw just four total cautions through the first 251 laps, two of which being for stage breaks. Overall, the playoffs have been run pretty clean in the normal non wildcard races (Roval, Talladega) in general. 92-percent of the races in Vegas and Richmond were run under green flag conditions. 96-percent was run at Dover. We saw 88-percent of green flag laps run Sunday in Kansas. That number was 74-percent in Charlotte on the ROVAL and 77-percent last week in Talladega.
The amazing part of this race being clean was for how many drivers came from the back. None of the drivers in the top 10 of the finishing order started in the first 5 Rows. That’s because the quick cars elected for long run speed instead of short run speed. So, the cars on short run speed qualified up front and the guys with quicker cars over the course of a run came forward.
Here’s the starting positions of the top 10 in the final order on Sunday – 23rd, 14th, 18th, 15th, 25th, 11th, 12th, 20th, 21st, 40th and 12th respectively.
JGR also heads into the Round of 8 with three drivers still in the championship hunt. They’ve won three of the six races run during the playoffs. What’s amazing though, over the last five playoff races, we’ve had five different winners from four different teams.
Martin Truex Jr. won in Richmond while Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney and now Hamlin have won the four races since.