As the laps wound down Saturday night in Atlanta it looked like Martin Truex Jr. was finally going to end his 191-race winless streak. But then Jamie McMurray hit the wall with four laps remaining and changed everything
The leaders pitted under caution and Hamlin’s crew took him from third to first and he led the field to the final green-white-checkered restart. Truex started outside of Hamlin but spun his tires and faded back. Hamlin and Jeff Gordon battled for the lead in the final laps but Hamlin edged Gordon to the line for his his fourth win of the season.
Brad Keselowski finished third followed by Truex and Kevin Harvick.
With the win, the 2012 STP 400 winner put himself into position to take the lead when the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup begins in two weeks. With back-to-back wins at Bristol and Atlanta, Hamlin now has the most wins of all drivers this season with four; Jimmie Johnson, Keselowski and Tony Stewart are tied for second with three wins each.
“First, I wanted to be the No. 1 seed,” said Hamlin. “Second, that was going to knock my teammate out of the Chase, and we couldn’t afford that. I’m a Joe Gibbs Racing blood guy for life. We need Kyle in there, and if Jeff won that race, it was going to be all over.”
There are now 10 drivers locked into the Chase- Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Truex, Keselowski, Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Harvick and Tony Stewart.
The remaining two positions in the Chase are the wild-card positions which could be filled by eight different drivers who are all still mathematically alive for the season ending, 10 race show down.
Stewart clinched at least a wild-card spot in the Chase at Atlanta, but is not out of the woods yet. After a 22nd-place finish at Atlanta, he is now just 18 points ahead of 11th-place Kasey Kahne. Stewart, who is a two-time Kansas Speedway winner, can’t afford another bad run at Richmond; if he falls out of the top 10 in the standings and uses one of the wild-card positions, he loses the bonus points for his three wins.
Kahne had mechanical problems early and finished 23rd at Atlanta which prevented him from clinching a spot in the Chase. He still leads the standings for the first wild-card position but could still miss the Chase should Kyle Busch or Gordon win at Richmond and one of them leap ahead of him into the top 10, and Stewart struggles and falls out of the top 10. All that is highly unlikely, but Kahne can’t afford to have problems at Richmond.
Busch had a sixth place run in Atlanta and doesn’t face a must-win situation at Richmond. If Gordon or another wild-card contender does not win at Richmond and Busch runs well, he could earn the second wild-card spot.
Gordon came close to earning the second wild-card position with a win at Atlanta, however the two-time Kansas Speedway winner’s second-place finish moved him up one spot in the standings to 13th and put him in position for a wild card should Busch not run well at Richmond.
Carl Edwards is now 49 points behind 10th place, which means he is in a must win situation next weekend, plus he has to leap over both Busch and Gordon in the standings, as all three drivers would be tied with one win each.
Marcos Ambrose, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano are all still mathematically eligible to make it into the Chase, however each driver would have to win at Richmond.
Tickets to the Hollywood Casino 400, the sixth race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, are on sale now by calling 866-460-RACE (7223) or logging onto www.kansasspeedway.com. Tickets to the Kansas Lottery 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race and the Kansas Lottery 98.9 ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards race are also on sale now.
Parking is always free at Kansas Speedway and fans can bring their own food and drink into the grandstands in a 14x14x14-inch soft-sided cooler.