Denny Hamlin Wins Chase Opener at Chicagoland With Late-Race Strategy

Credit: Russell LaBounty/NKP
Credit: Russell LaBounty/NKP

Posted By: Brian Eberly – Follow at @beberly18

September 20, 2015

Denny Hamlin went to victory lane on Sunday in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 400 at Chicagoland Speedway after crew chief Dave Rogers made the correct call to stay out under the final caution of the race.

Hamlin restarted from the third position behind Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon and made a three-wide move before never looking back and leading the final five laps en route to victory lane.

“It was ballsy, but I’d been stuck so many times three-wide in the middle,” Hamlin said of the race-winning move. “The front cars almost have a disadvantage to the back cars the way it all plays out. We got a great restart and I just held it wide open through (turns) one and two and it stuck. We were able to get in that clean air and take off.”

Hamlin fought a tight racecar in Friday’s opening practice session, and when qualifying was rained out and first practice speeds set the field, Hamlin started the race 29th – the worst of the Chase competitors.

The race began terribly for Hamlin as he spun on the second lap in the No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota and had to fight back from a lap down. With the victory, Hamlin advances to the Contender Round of The Chase for the Sprint Cup.

“Sorry, I was coming and the 47 (Allmendinger) just came down,” said Hamlin over the radio after the spin.

“Coming back from a lap down – we had a fast car. We were running under green over and over and over and I thought we would never get back on the lead lap,” Hamlin said of longest green flag run of the 2015 season, which went from Lap 6 to Lap 124.

Less than two weeks ago, Hamlin torn the ACL in his right knee playing basketball but decided to forego surgery until after the season.

Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, and Aric Almirola rounded out the top-10.

Kenseth had what looked to be a 15th-place car but was able to take advantage of the final restart to bring the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota home with a fifth-place finish.

“The last restart, we were on the bottom and Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) made some good adjustments,” Kenseth said. “They got all bottled up in turn one and I think I passed about eight of them on the first corner. It turned pretty good on that restart and starting on the bottom was an advantage for us.”

The remaining Chase competitors and their respective finishing positions: Jimmie Johnson (11th), Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (12th), Martin Truex, Jr. (13th), Jeff Gordon (14th), Jamie McMurray (16th), Paul Menard (17th), Clint Bowyer (19th) and Kevin Harvick (42nd).

The race was slowed by six yellow flags for 28 laps and featured 17 lead changes among seven different leaders.

The series heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the second race of The Chase for the Sprint Cup next Sunday.

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