Denny Hamlin didn’t tap-dance around the tap that helped him to a much-needed victory at Kyle Larson’s expense in Sunday’s AdventHealth 400 NASCAR Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway.
On the final lap, after an intense chase that began with a restart on Lap 221 of 267, Hamlin closed in on Larson’s Chevrolet and further loosened an already loose race car. Slight contact from the right front of Hamlin’s Toyota turned Larson into the outside wall as Hamlin streaked past and took the checkered flag.
Larson recovered to finish second, 1.307 seconds behind the winner, who ended a 33-race drought with his fourth victory at Kansas and exited his car at the finish line to a chorus of boos from fans who didn’t like the way he had won the race.
“Yeah, I got position on him there, tried to side-draft him and clipped his left rear,” said Hamlin, who collected his 49th career victory, tying him with Tony Stewart for 15th most all-time. “But I’m glad he was able to at least finish.
“Credit to my FedEx team, though. Four hundred wins for Joe Gibbs Racing (203 in the NASCAR Cup Series, 197 in the Xfinity Series)—it’s such a great accomplishment for them.”
Hamlin’s last-lap pass for the win was the first at Kansas. The race featured 37 lead changes among 12 drivers, the most lead changes in NASCAR history in a 400-mile race on a 1.5-mile intermediate speedway.
Larson led seven times for a race-high 85 laps that included a stretch of 46 straight before Hamlin grabbed the win on Lap 267.
“I haven’t seen a replay,” Larson said, “but obviously, he was side-drafting really aggressively, like he would. He was touching me, it felt like, and it had me really out of control. I we wish we could…”
As Larson uttered those words, his attention turned to a confrontation between fifth-place finisher Ross Chastain and Noah Gragson, who swapped sheet metal at least twice during the race. The drivers took a couple of swings at each other before being restrained.
“I got tight off of (Turn) 4, for sure,” said Chastain, who ran Gragson up toward the wall during the final stage. “Noah and I have a very similar attitude on the racetrack. We train together, we prepare together, and we know every little thing about each other.
“Yeah, I definitely crowded him up off of 4, and he took a swipe at us in 3, and came down and grabbed ahold of me (after the race). A very big man once told me we have a no-push policy here at Trackhouse (Racing).”
Pole winner William Byron ran third, after recovering from a speeding penalty that put him two laps down. Bubba Wallace passed Chastain with 15 laps left to secure the fourth position. Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr., Tyler Reddick and Austin Dillon completed the top 10.
The fact that Larson was able to contend for the win at all was a reflection of his talent, given thorny circumstances that set him back in the early going. In a three-way battle for the lead before the race was five laps old, Reddick tried to shoehorn his No. 45 Toyota between Larson, the leader, and Ross Chastain, then running third.
But Reddick tapped the rear of Larson’s Chevrolet and sent the No. 5 spinning toward the apron. Larson avoided contact with the wall and recovered to reassume the lead during the second stage.
As Hamlin’s crew chief Chris Gabehart noted after the race, “Denny Hamlin just beat the most talented race car driver in the world. What does that say?”
Consecutive wrecks late in Stage 2 scrambled the running order and handed the stage win to Logano, who had stayed out under the sixth caution for Christopher Bell’s wreck on the backstretch on Lap 159.
As Chastain slowed slightly on the backstretch, Bell steered his No. 20 Toyota to the inside, then moved up the track and clipped Chastain’s Chevrolet. Bell spun into the wall and damaged his car beyond repair.
“Just tried to get a little too aggressive on the side-draft, got into the 1 (Chastain) and spun out,” Bell said succinctly after leaving the infield care center.
At least he didn’t blame Chastain.