Monday, March 4, 2024

Denny Hamlin wins Kansas after last-lap contact

As Denny Hamlin celebrated his first win of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season after last-lap contact with Kyle Larson, Ross Chastain‘s right fist was making contact with Noah Gragson‘s left cheek.

Hamlin battled Larson for much of the closing laps in Sunday’s AdventHealth 400 at Kansas Speedway, and an opportunity opened up after Larson got loose on the backstretch after taking the white flag. Larson attempted to recover but was clipped by Hamlin, causing him to hit the wall again.

“It really started with about three laps to go or so,” began Hamlin’s breakdown of the duel. “I was able to get beside him a few times, but there was one where we caught a couple lapped cars and I got to the inside of him and the lap car chose my lane on the bottom, and that really hurt us. I thought that was our best opportunity to pass him.

“So we were two to go, I knew the only way I was going to have an attempt to get near him was to get a huge run off of turn four, so I ran way up high in turn three, really kind of a Kyle Larson line, way up by the fence, and I just pulled it down and got a huge run, and that run down the front straightaway allowed me to pack air on him getting into the corner and get him up the race track so I could get beside him.

“We were both pedalling the throttle on the exit. I was sideways and he was sideways – I knew it was going to be close whether he was going to clear me, and I’m just trying to grind on his left side, trying to keep the side draft as tight as I could, and it’s just a super sensitive part of the car if you get to the left rear, and obviously it hooked him to the right, and we won. The end.”

Larson still managed to finish second despite the clash. After the race, he explained he “was really loose. I was trying to do what I could to manage it, just was really loose at that end, and yeah, just he was a little bit better than me there at the end. I haven’t seen a replay either, but obviously he was side drafting really aggressively like you would, but he was like touching me it felt like, and it just had me kind of out of control.”

The incident wrapped up a chaotic day almost akin to a superspeedway race, which recent Kansas dates have seemingly resembled. Excluding the first stage break, ten cautions were flown for accidents including Kyle Busch‘s wreck as Stage #2 came to an end. A whopping thirty-seven lead changes between twelve drivers took place, more than the two Kansas races in 2022 combined and the most outside of a superspeedway since the 2011 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte—which had a longer race length than Kansas by 200 more miles—saw thirty-eight.

While their run-in did not produce a caution, Chastain and Gragson collided while racing each other late when the latter bounced off the wall. Gragson confronted Chastain on pit road after the race, the two holding each other before Chastain threw a right hook that landed. Before Gragson could retaliate, the two were separated by NASCAR officials.

“He just fenced us off of (turn) four sixty laps to go in the race,” Gragson charged. “Completely used us up and fenced the shit out of us. I’m not going to tear the Trackhouse guys’ stuff up, I respect their hard work. But nobody confronts the guy. I went down there and grabbed him and showed my displeasure. I’m sick and tired of it, and the guy just runs into everyone. When you got guys like Chase Elliott and other guys telling you to go beat his ass, everyone’s just sick and tired of him but nobody has the balls to go up and get him. I’m tired of it.”

Chastain conceded he “got tight off of (turn) four for sure,” but added that “Noah and I have a very similar attitude on the racetrack, and we train together, we prepare together, we know each other’s every little bit about each other. Definitely crowded him up off of four, and he took a swipe at us in three, and then he came down and grabbed a hold of me, and a very big man once told me we have a no-push policy here at Trackhouse.”

Race results

Finish Start Number Driver Team Manufacturer Laps Status
1 8 11 Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 267 Running
2 2 5 Kyle Larson Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 267 Running
3 1 24 William Byron Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 267 Running
4 17 23 Bubba Wallace 23XI Racing Toyota 267 Running
5 3 1 Ross Chastain Trackhouse Racing Team Chevrolet 267 Running
6 6 22 Joey Logano Team Penske Ford 267 Running
7 21 9 Chase Elliott Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 267 Running
8 4 19 Martin Truex Jr. Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 267 Running
9 5 45 Tyler Reddick 23XI Racing Toyota 267 Running
10 11 3 Austin Dillon Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 267 Running
11 13 4 Kevin Harvick Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 267 Running
12 33 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet 267 Running
13 18 10 Aric Almirola Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 267 Running
14 27 16 A.J. Allmendinger Kaulig Racing Chevrolet 267 Running
15 9 99 Daniel Suárez Trackhouse Racing Team Chevrolet 267 Running
16 10 12 Ryan Blaney Team Penske Ford 267 Running
17 14 17 Chris Buescher RFK Racing Ford 267 Running
18 30 31 Justin Haley Kaulig Racing Chevrolet 267 Running
19 20 6 Brad Keselowski RFK Racing Ford 267 Running
20 24 7 Corey LaJoie Spire Motorsports Chevrolet 267 Running
21 19 43 Erik Jones Legacy Motor Club Chevrolet 267 Running
22 26 77 Ty Dillon Spire Motorsports Chevrolet 267 Running
23 35 51 J.J. Yeley* Rick Ware Racing Ford 266 Running
24 32 38 Todd Gilliland Front Row Motorsports Ford 266 Running
25 29 48 Josh Berry* Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 266 Running
26 23 34 Michael McDowell Front Row Motorsports Ford 266 Running
27 28 41 Ryan Preece Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 266 Running
28 34 15 Brennan Poole* Rick Ware Racing Ford 264 Running
29 22 42 Noah Gragson Legacy Motor Club Chevrolet 262 Running
30 25 21 Harrison Burton Wood Brothers Racing Ford 261 Running
31 15 2 Austin Cindric Team Penske Ford 260 Running
32 31 14 Chase Briscoe Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 260 Running
33 36 78 Josh Bilicki Live Fast Motorsports Chevrolet 260 Running
34 7 54 Ty Gibbs Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 176 Accident
35 16 8 Kyle Busch Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 162 Accident
36 12 20 Christopher Bell Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 157 Accident
Italics – Competing for Rookie of the Year
* – Ineligible for points
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