Denny Hamlin took a comeback victory at the MyAfibRisk.com 400 at Chicagoland Sunday night, becoming the first driver to advance onwards in the Chase for the Sprint Cup and continuing a series of strong performances from the Toyotas and Joe Gibbs Racing.
With Toyota’s recent success has come Chevrolet’s downfall. The automaker last won a race in July when Dale Earnhardt Jr. drove to victory in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, and although Chevy drivers have been close on numerous occasions, including Sunday, they’ve been unable to make anything happen since.
If there’s one driver who can lock in a win for Chevy, it’s Kevin Harvick. The Stewart-Haas racing driver was in line for a strong finish Sunday when he and the No. 48 of Jimmie Johnson made contact, sending his No. 4 Chevrolet SS into the wall and puncturing the left rear tire. After starting on pole, Harvick ended up 42nd, putting him last in the Chase standings.
Hamlin, meanwhile, started from 29th position and almost immediately went a lap down after spinning out on Lap 2. He stayed off the lead lap until he was given a wave around on Lap 129. He was then able to grab the lead by electing to stay out on old tires with five laps left and easily pulled away from second-place’s Carl Edwards on the restart to win by 0.963-seconds.
“We got a great restart, and I just held it wide open through (Turns) 1 and 2, and it stuck,” Hamlin told NASCAR post-race. “We were able to get in that clean air and take off.”
“Luckily, that one caution (for debris on the backstretch on Lap 122) came out that allowed us to get the wave-around and get back on the lead lap,” Hamlin said. “We had a fast car, and that was the most important thing. We stretched out there at the end even with no tires.”
In behind Edwards was Kurt Busch, who was leading the race before a caution for debris was put out on Lap 263. Chevy’s Ryan Newman was fourth, while JGR’s Matt Kenseth finished fifth. Aprt from Busch and Newman, Kyle Larson was the only other Chevy driver in the top ten, with Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr. and Jeff Gordon taking 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th, in that order.
With his Chicagoland win, Denny Hamlin becomes the first driver to advance to the 12-driver ‘Contender’ round of the Chase. We’ll know who the next driver is to advance in the playoff when NASCAR heads to New Hampshire next week for the Sylvania 300. Click here for full results from Chicagoland, and here for a full schedule of next weekend’s festivities.