As Denny Hamlin was finishing off a dominating day in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, Chase Elliott stole perhaps an even bigger prize—a spot in the Round of 8 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
Hamlin, who led 153 of 277 laps, crossed the finish line .128 seconds ahead of Elliott in a second overtime to secure his fifth victory of the season, his second at Kansas Speedway and the 36th of his career.
But the real suspense in the second overtime featured a three-way battle between Elliott, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano for the final two spots in the Round of 8. Logano restarted 20th in a damaged No. 22 Ford and finished 17th to secure one of the Playoff positions.
Keselowski, who entered the race with a 20-point margin over Elliott, was bottled up on the final restart, fell from 13th to 19th in the running order and lost the final Playoff berth to Elliott by three points.
Fittingly, there were two celebrations on pit road—one for the winner and one for the runner-up.
“This is a great feeling,” said Hamlin, who led Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch (third) and Martin Truex Jr. (sixth) into the penultimate round of the Playoffs. “That car was awesome to dominate that whole second half.
“I have to thank everybody who pushed me on the restarts, Kyle (Busch), the 9 (Elliott) at the end. Good to see him make it by points anyway. But, hey, I'm just really happy for this whole FedEx team. It's been great. Been running really good. Cannot wait to get to Martinsville (next Sunday’s Round of 8 opener).”
Elliott is the only Hendrick Motorsports driver to transfer into the Round of 8. Teammate William Byron was fifth on Sunday but missed the next round by 16 points. Alex Bowman suffered early damage and rallied to run 11th, but he finished the race 20 points behind Elliott for the last spot.
Clint Bowyer came home eighth and was eliminated from the Playoffs in 12th place, 21 points below the cut line.
“The good news was the bottom lane rolled good enough on the last restart to at least get back to second,” Elliott said. “So I appreciate the effort. We were really struggling there at one point in the race. You have to stay fighting in these things, especially with these late race restarts.
“Just proud of the effort today. Just excited we get to fight another race. Back up against the wall, to come out here and battle for a win, that's what you have to do when you're in the position that we were in.
“If you ever get to Homestead (in the Championship 4 race), you're going to have to fight for a win down there. Proud of the effort. Learned a lot. To be able to come out here and, like I said, in our minds have to win, come and fight for one, to finish second, I think is a step in the right direction for us. So excited to move on.”
Logano won the first 80-lap stage and added four points with a seventh-place finish in the second stage to give himself the buffer he needed at the end, after spinning through the infield grass on the next-to-last lap in the first overtime, the result of a collision with the Chevrolet of Ty Dillon.
Logano, the defending series champion, finished the Round of 12 nine points ahead of Keselowski, his Team Penske teammate.
An effective charge toward the end of the race netted Kurt Busch a fourth-place finish. Truex, Erik Jones, Bowyer, Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson completed the top 10.
Despite an off day, Harvick cruised into the next round of the Playoffs. Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney already were locked into the Round of 8, thanks to their respective victories at Dover and Talladega.