Denny Hamlin: Spin-to-Win in ChicagoSeptember 21, 2015
Denny Hamlin was victorious in Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chase playoff opener at Chicagoland Speedway, making the decisive pass on a restart with five laps to go to take the checkered flag in the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota.
Hamlin lined up third behind leader Jeff Gordon and second place Kurt Busch after the race's final caution on the 1.5-mile oval, and dove to the inside in Turn 1 to make it three-wide, clearing both cars by the exit of Turn 2. From there, the 34-year-old competing in his ninth Chase playoffs hit his marks, winning the 267-lap race to guarantee himself a spot in the Contender Round in the elimination-style format.
"What an amazing day for this FedEx Ground team," said Hamlin, who advanced to the Championship 4 in the new Chase system one year ago. "We overcame a lot of adversity, but kept a cool head and let the race play out. We put ourselves in position to catch some breaks that we needed, and capitalized at the end."
It was an eventful day for Hamlin and the FedEx Racing Team. Charging out of the gate from a 29th-place starting spot, Hamlin made contact with AJ Allmendinger on just the second lap, spinning to a stop in Turn 4 but avoiding major damage. He lost a lap while nursing the #11 machine back to pit road, and restarted last in the 43-car field after minor repairs.
"I'm not quite sure what happened on that wreck, but I was so glad we didn't get hit by any of those cars flying by," continued Hamlin. "I was just praying that we didn't have extensive damage because I knew we had a fast car."
On the ensuing restart, the race saw a long stretch of green flag racing, with Hamlin mired deep in the pack and needing cautions to help his cause. The second yellow did not come until Lap 124, and Hamlin was nearly two laps down after a second round of green flag pit stops.
The caution periods finally came, and after Crew Chief Dave Rogers elected to use the wave around to get back on the lead lap, caught another quick yellow to put fresh tires on the FedEx Camry and regained all of the lost track position.
Hamlin methodically worked through the pack from there, moving into the top-five as the laps clicked. It looked as though he would finish fourth before the final caution with 10 laps to go. There, he stayed on the track while the majority of lead lap cars came to pit road, setting up the dramatic late-race pass for the win.
The victory moved Hamlin up to second in the Chase standings after one of three races in the Challenger Round, two points behind teammate Matt Kenseth. The final two events of the segment, at New Hampshire and Dover, will determine what drivers -- in addition to Hamlin -- will advance when the field is trimmed from 16 to 12.