While Coach Joe Gibbs wouldn’t call it a hail mary completion, it certainly was a walk-off. Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 dominated in the closing stages of the Bluegreen Vacations 500 on Sunday to lock himself into the NASCAR Playoffs.
Hamlin picked up his sixth victory of the 2019 and his second career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win at ISM Raceway. Entering the race, Hamlin was below the championship points cutline and likely wouldn’t make the Championship Four if Joey Logano ran a good race. The win secured Hamlin’s entry into the championship next week at Homestead-Miami Speedway to compete for his first championship.
“It certainly gives us a lot of confidence,” Hamlin told Sports360AZ in Victory Lane. “There’s a lot of work ahead of us, we can’t get too far ahead of ourselves. I know on Monday morning my team is going to go to work, be at the race track first thing in the morning, and we’re going to figure out how we’re going to win next week.”
“NASCAR is so hard, we have 37 weekends racing short tracks, road races, intermediates,” car owner, Joe Gibbs told Sports360AZ. “For our three cars to be able to qualify for the final is just unbelievable. The Lord blessed us with a great day and it’s a thrill for me just to be a part of it.
Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick were locked into the championship with wins in the Round of Eight. Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson, and Chase Elliott were the other drivers racing to get in. If any of those six drivers won, they would be in the championship, any other open spots in the top four were decided by points.
Kyle Busch, the winner of the last two Cup Series races at ISM Raceway, picked up the pole in qualifying with a time of 25.693. Busch dominated stage one but a late-stage caution brought many leaders in and shook up the field. Denny Hamlin took the stage one win and led early in stage two.
Defending champion, Joey Logano, would take the lead and claim victory in stage two. The eight playoff drivers would finish in the top eight. In the final stage, chaos found Chase Elliot as he lost the car in turns one and two, backing the car into the wall and ending his day and championship hopes.
The final stage was all about Denny Hamlin. The No.11 team put the car up front and put all cars from seventh on back a lap down. A late-race caution would shake up the race, though. All drivers hit pit lane look for four fresh tires. Crew Chief for the No.11, Chris Gabehart, saw Ryan Blaney’s team only take two tires, trying to win the No.12 team’s way into the championship. Gabehart called an audible and changed his team to two tires in the middle of the crew’s stop. The audible would place Hamlin first with three laps remaining on his way to the Bluegreen Vacations 500 win.
Following behind Hamlin was Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson, and Kevin Harvick would round out the top five. Even with the great finishes from Blaney and Larson, it wasn’t enough to give them enough points to get into the championship race.
Along with Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, and Kyle Busch will head to Homestead-Miami Speedway next week to decide the championship. In the championship race, all cars will be on track but those four drivers will only be eligible for the title. Like the final race in Disney/Pixar “Cars,” points will not matter for the four drivers, whoever finishes in front of the other three drivers will win the championship.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will conclude their season with a championship battle at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Saturday, Nov. 17, at 1:00 p.m. Arizona Time.
The Cup Series will be back at ZOOMTOWN U.S.A. for the FanShield500 on Sunday, March 8, 2020, and will decide a champion in 2020 at ISM Raceway.
He saw, he came, he conquered.
— Devon Henry (@devonhenry77) November 11, 2019