Denny Hamlin closes Round of 12 with Hollywood Casino 400 win

by Justin Nguyen

The Monster Energy Cup Series playoffs’ Round of 12 come to an end with Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway. By the end, Denny Hamlin pulled away in two overtime attempts for his fifth win of the year.

In a bizarre turn of events in qualifying, Daniel Hemric recorded his first career pole with David Ragan; it was the latter’s first front row start since 2011. Ragan’s Front Row Motorsports team-mate Michael McDowell started sixth, which ties his career-best qualifying spot with the 2014 fall Talladega Superspeedway race. The twelve playoff drivers were scattered across the grid, with Ryan Blaney the highest qualifier in third and Kevin Harvick in last after failing inspection multiple times that prevented him from setting a time.

Stage #1

Hemric led the first five laps as he kept the Team Penske duo of Blaney and Brad Keselowski at bay. On lap six, Kyle Larson went by to take the lead before Keselowski gained the position two laps later, though Larson retook it after a lap.

On lap nine, Ryan Newman pitted under green. Ragan did the same seven laps later after a tyre went down. From the back, Harvick was approaching the top twenty after 23 laps.

Joey Logano pitted on lap 32 to repair damage and treat a vibration, but fell to thirty-fourth and a lap down after a slow stop. Larson pitted from the lead on lap 48, during which he briefly stalled trying to exit, which allowed William Byron to spend time in front. The pit cycle shuffled Hamlin into first before Larson was back on top. Meanwhile, Parker Kligerman received an uncontrolled tyre penalty.

On lap 75, Newman hit the wall while racing Roush Fenway Racing team-mate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to bring out the first caution. After the leaders pitted, Kyle Busch was the first off pit road. The green flag waved on lap 78; after a battle that saw the leaders go five-wide, Logano led Elliott to the green-checkered flag.

Daniel Suárez finished third, followed by Martin Truex Jr., Busch, Keselowski, Blaney, Hamlin, Stenhouse, and Erik Jones.

Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Stage #2

The second stage began on lap 87 with Elliott and Suárez on the front row; the former quickly started to fall as Suárez and Truex passed him. On lap 93, Truex took the lead from Suárez.

Jimmie Johnson pitted on lap 101, sinking him to twenty-seventh. Timmy Hill, running his first race with Spire Motorsports, was eventually parked for being too slow. On lap 116, Joey Gase spun into the infield grass after clipped him for the yellow flag. During the ensuing caution, Larson was penalised for an uncontrolled tyre.

The race resumed on lap 121 with Truex still leading. After four laps, Hamlin took the lead from his Joe Gibbs Racing colleague before Truex reclaimed it, with Hamlin once again retaking the spot a lap later.

As Hmlin went off to take the stage win, Larson found himself trying to climb back up after an unscheduled stop. By the end of the stage, he finished fourteenth.

Blaney, Truex, Byron, Elliott, Harvick, Logano, Paul Menard, Clint Bowyer, and Busch also received stage points. Larson, Bowman (fifteenth), and Keselowski (sixteenth) finished outside the top ten. Elliott, Byron, Bowyer, and Bowman were below the cut line at stage’s conclusion.

Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Stage #3

Stage #3 commenced on lap 167 with Hamlin leading Truex and Blaney. After six laps of racing, the entire top ten consisted of playoff drivers (with Bowman and Keselowski the exceptions).

As Hamlin continued to lead, Busch and Blaney battled for second. On lap 208, Landon Cassill went to the garage; although he momentarily returned, he eventually retired from the race after his StarCom Racing crew found a broken part that could not be repaired.

Green flag stops began on lap 210, with Bowman being the last playoff contender to do so. Once the cycle finished, Hamlin was back on top. On lap 247, he lapped Keselowski, who was fighting with Elliott for the final spot in the Round of 8.

With 15 laps remaining, Blaney hit the wall while running in fourth, producing the caution. After the leaders pitted, Hamlin and Larson comprised the front row. The two led the field to what would be the penultimate restart with nine laps to go.

Larson and Hamlin ran side-by-side for much of the restart before the latter cleared for the lead. Busch made contact on the apron as he slipped into second and Elliott moved up to third. Meanwhile, Keselowski and Elliott dueled for the eighth playoff slot, the former having to chase down other cars between them to gain points positions.

On lap 265, Darrell Wallace Jr. spun when his left-rear wheel came off, slamming into the wall. Matt Tifft was also involved in the wreck.

Keselowski pitted and restarted fifteenth, needing to finish at least in that position to advance to the Round of 8 if Elliott did not win.

A good restart pushed Hamlin ahead with Busch tailing him. Coming to the final lap, Logano, Suárez, and Hemric all wrecked shortly before Hamlin crossed the start/finish line. As the leader had not taken the white flag, another overtime was called.

Hamlin once again paced the grid to the next restart. This time, he was able to pull away and hold off Elliott to reach the white flag and take his fifth win of 2019 (the most since 2012). Elliott finished second and Keselowski nineteenth, enabling the former to squeeze into the Round of 8. Bowyer, Bowman, and Byron also failed to advance.

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