Denny Hamlin delivers in Phoenix

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Denny Hamlin scored a gut-check victory in the Bluegreen Vacations 500 at ISM Raceway in Phoenix Sunday afternoon, holding off a hard-charging Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch in a late-race restart. Crew chief Chris Gabehart made the call for a two-tire stop when everyone else took four, and the gamble paid off.

“I knew at the end of the race last week we were going to have a fighting chance.” Hamlin said. “I had all the parts and pieces I needed to go to Phoenix and win the race. But it's all the unknowns that you don't know about. I just made sure I did my job. Chris [Gabehart] worked really hard and did his job. Great to have a result like that.”

Gabehart explained his call.

“You train yourself for all that heading into the week. You know what those racetracks are. You try to let your instinct make those calls because if you let your emotion make it, it's going to be wrong. You try to train your instincts throughout the week.

“I truly believed we needed to have a front row restart there with only three to go to have a shot. We called the play, and again we don't do this on the fly. It's either this, this or this. But the decisions are already made. It's just a matter of which one we're going to point to, and we pointed to that one.

“Then the ball is in Denny's hands.  It's time to execute. Again, winners like the ball, and Denny got it done.”

The win puts the No. 11 team in the Final Four next week at Homestead-Miami Speedway alongside Martinsville winner Martin Truex Jr., Texas winner Kevin Harvick, and regular-season points leader Kyle Busch. For the first time in the history of the playoffs, one organization will have three entries in the championship round.

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Hamlin came into the race below the cutoff line, 42 points behind leader Truex. As the race went on, it became obvious that Hamlin would have to win to advance. Also needing a win to compete for the championship were Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, and Chase Elliott.

Unfortunately, Elliott’s day ended with a flat tire on Lap 166 that caused him to back into the wall.

"Yeah, it's just a continuation of our first two weeks, unfortunately,” Elliott said. “I hate it for our NAPA group. We had a decent NAPA Chevy today. It was really tough in traffic to catch guys and then pass and whatnot. But, 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.”

Logano had the potential to get in on points, but Logano didn’t want to depend on that and was going for the win, too, leading 93 laps early in the race. His car simply stopped turning, though, prompting Logano to say on his radio that it felt like the tires were on backwards. Spotter TJ Majors assured him that was not the case, but Logano wound up ninth, which wasn’t good enough to overcome Busch’s point advantage from the regular season.

“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.” Logano explained. “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.”

Blaney looked for a minute like he might make it past the leaders on the final restart but once Hamlin got a nose out front he was in the wind.“ You try to build off of what you learn and everything like that. Just a matter of gaining bonus points throughout the year. I look back and that's the one thing that hurt us. We didn't win races throughout the year in the regular season. That hurts you. You don't have any cushion to lay back on. Especially when you get in these round of eights and everyone is really good and they've got a bunch of bonus points, it's hard to make it up,” Blaney said.
Kyle Larson stayed near the front of the field but in the end, he didn’t have anything for the No. 11 either, ending up fourth.“We were running around fifth to seventh all day, and that's kind of what I thought we had for speed yesterday or the other day in practice. That's what we ran. Would have liked to have restarted on top that final one. I couldn't really make the VHT work throughout our run, but for the first few laps I knew it would be really grippy up there, I was just always stuck on the bottom,” explained Larson.

 “I was able to get clear after we ran a lap and got around the 4 and 19, I think, up there. But yeah, you know, it was a so‑so day, but able to finish fourth. Obviously we needed a win, but didn't get that done.”

Tune in next week for the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The Ford EcoBoost 400 broadcasts on NBC 3:00 PM EST, and on SiriusXM NASCAR radio.

Denny Hamlin delivers in Phoenix Denny Hamlin delivers in Phoenix Reviewed by Janine Cloud on Sunday, November 10, 2019 Rating: 5