Race Report: ChicagoSeptember 15, 2014
Hamlin restarted fifth on worn tires with less than 10 laps remaining in the #11 FedEx Office Toyota, holding off a host of challengers en route to the finish line in the 267-lap event won by Brad Keselowski.
"It was a great finish for our FedEx team and a good start to the Chase," said Hamlin, following the race. "The team certainly brought a good car, and after overcoming a little adversity this weekend, turned it into a solid day. That's what we need to do in this new playoff format."
Since rain cancelled qualifying on Friday and the starting grid was set by practice speeds, Hamlin had to start 24th but immediately showed to be one of strongest cars from the drop of the green flag, moving up nine spots to 13th before the race's first caution.
Hamlin battled a tight race car early in runs that prevented him from moving up in the running order until tire pressures built and the #11 machine's handling came to him.
"I think we were just hitting the splitter the first few laps of runs and it just made the car way, way too tight," said Hamlin. "The changes didn't help like we hoped until late in the race."
One long green flag run saw Hamlin slide back to 17th as he battled the tight car before a caution with less than 70 laps to go. Crew Chief Darian Grubb called for a wedge adjustment and a big air pressure change, which brought the car to life. Hamlin moved up from 12th to seventh as the laps clicked.
He made his final stop under green on Lap 226, just before a caution came out, bunching the field with fresh tires for the restart. Hamlin restarted eighth and made a three-wide pass into sixth in Turn 3. He moved into fifth a few laps later and was reeling in Jeff Gordon for fourth when the race's final caution waved with 10 laps to go.
The finish moved Hamlin up to sixth in the Chase standings following Chicagoland, 18 points behind leader Keselowski, who automatically transferred to the second round with his victory.
The top-12 drivers in points will move on to the second segment after two more races -- at New Hampshire (Sept. 21) and Dover (Sept. 28).