AVONDALE, Ariz. — Denny Hamlin finds redemption from last week’s mistake to secure his spot into the Championship 4 by winning the Bluegreen Vacations 500 at ISM Raceway.
“I can’t believe it,” Hamlin said post-race.
Hamlin was below the cutoff race and lost 44 points in a single race. Today’s win negates that mistake as the driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota will go for his first career NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series championship.
“This race team worked so hard this whole year. They deserve to be there. I put them in a bad hole last week. I told them today in the meeting, I said, I’m going to give everything I’ve got to make up for the mistake I made last week. That’s all I got.”
Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. will join Hamlin and go for their second championship. If one of them wins next weekend, they will become the second active driver in the field with multiple championships (Jimmie Johnson holds seven titles).
“Guys did a great job, this M&M Camry was good,” Busch shared. “Thanks to everybody at JGR, Stanley, Toyota, TRD. It’s cool to have a chance to go race for a championship.”
Truex was the first driver to lock in after winning at Martinsville.
“I know we’re ready for Homestead,” stated a confident Truex. “To put three (JGR) cars in the Championship 4 is pretty incredible, so thanks to TRD and Toyota and all those guys. Bass Pro, Auto-Owners, everybody that helps us on the 19, and we’ll see what we can do next week.”
Harvick will be the second seed with his 49th career victory last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.
“The one thing about this particular year, it seems like you’ve had great weeks, you’ve had mediocre weeks so that momentum thing is kind of hit-or-miss as you go through it,” Harvick explained the various parts of his season as being a momentum factor. “Just really proud of everybody on our Mobil 1 Ford.”
Stage 2 winner and Playoff contender Joey Logano was competing up front in the first half of the race. After the conclusion of Stage 2, Logano’s crew made an adjustment on the car that appeared to not agree with the track conditions. When the field returned to green flag racing, Logano dropped through the field and even fell a lap down. He could never recover, finished ninth, and was the first driver eliminated from the Playoffs after being above the cutoff line to start the day.
“I went from a car that could lead and win a stage and run really well, and from what they told me, it was an air pressure adjustment made it go from a winning car to can’t stay on the lead lap, and one of the tightest things I’ve ever driven. I don’t really understand it. It doesn’t make any sense. You change tires and change a half pint of air, that sounds ridiculous. It is what it is. Just wasn’t our year to make it, I guess. But we’ll fight for fifth, I guess, in points for this year, and we’ll move on.”
“It stinks. It hurts a little bit, but we’ll live,” Logano said. “Everything is going to be OK. Life is a lot worse in other ways for some. We’re still fortunate to be here and get to do what we love. It’s a bummer for sure. It doesn’t take anything away from that, but it’s just part of the game sometimes.”
Three other drivers in must-win situations were also eliminated from the Playoffs: Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott. For Elliott, he battled for the lead throughout the first half of the race, but a blown tire in Turn 1 caused race-ending damage on his No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet.
“Yeah, it’s just a continuation of our first two weeks, unfortunately, ” Elliott said. “I feel like we were in a good position to run solid. I’m not sure why we had a tire go down. I think that’s what happened, at least; it seemed like it. It’s unfortunate. Like I said, these last three weeks have been pretty rough. So, hopefully, Homestead goes better and we can get prepared good for next season and get a good notebook for next year.”
“All in all, a great season for our team,” Larson shared after the race. “A little rocky at the start, but we kept our heads down and kept working hard and got our stuff a lot better and more consistent throughout this season. We’ll try to go to Homestead next week and get a win.”
Busch, Blaney, Larson, Harvick and Truex finished in the top six respectively. Erik Jones was the highest non-Playoff driver who finished in seventh. Clint Bowyer, Logano and Brad Keselowski completed the top 10 positions. Elliott, the final Playoff driver, finished 39th after crashing out on Lap 166.
The champion for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will be crowned next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.