Two spots in the NASCAR Championship 4 were up for grabs heading into Sunday’s Bluegreen Vacations 500 from ISM Raceway in Phoenix. One of them was scooped up by Denny Hamlin, who put in a race-winning performance to clinch a championship spot in the final hour. Hamlin was desperate for a good result, sitting 20 points shy of the cutline after spinning at Texas last weekend, but got the job done with a much-needed win. The other spot was claimed by his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch, who finished second behind Hamlin to knock Team Penske’s Joey Logano from contention.
That meant the only two Chevrolet drivers left in contention for the 2019 NASCAR Cup Series title, Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson, were also knocked out. Elliott’s championship hopes came to an end on Lap 167, when a tire let go on his No. 9 Camaro, sending him sliding backward into the outside wall at Turn 1. He was classified 39th. Larson finished fourth overall after putting in a solid performance, but with the No. 42 Camaro in a must-win scenario after Stage 1, he was also knocked from championship contention. Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney was also excluded from the Championship 4 following his third-place result.
For a moment, Logano looked as though he might claim the final spot after leading 93 laps and winning the second stage, but Hamlin, who won Stage 1, eventually got by the No. 22 Ford on Lap 177. Logano then dropped off pace, falling back to 11th and eventually going a full lap down to Hamlin. A series of green-flag pit stops then shuffled the field, but Hamlin once again emerged the leader and took the checker in front of Busch and Blaney.
“One of the best cars of my career, I can tell you that,” Hamlin said post-race. “Fast car. But, yeah, I pushed for all I had.”
The Joe Gibbs Racing cars of Hamlin, Busch and Martin Truex Jr. will fight Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick for the title at Homestead-Miami on Sunday, November 17th. Click here full results from ISM Raceway and here for a full schedule for next weekend.