Denny Hamlin wins Chicagoland: 5 takeaways

Sep 12, 2015; Richmond, VA, USA; Sprint Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin (11) races during the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway. Mandatory Credit: Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 12, 2015; Richmond, VA, USA; Sprint Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin (11) races during the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway. Mandatory Credit: Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports /

Denny Hamlin picked up a win and spot in the next round of the “The Chase” after winning at Chicagoland.

It was the first race of “The Chase” at Chicagoland for the 400 and an old, familiar face put together a run that reminded everyone of past runs. Jeff Gordon put on his best race of the season when it mattered most at Chicagoland on Sunday. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough, as he couldn’t sustain a final restart and Denny Hamlin passed him by to pull ahead for the win at Chicagoland. Gordon would fall way back as a result of getting loose, but his strong performance showed what he can do going forward.

For most of the day, it was the Busch brothers leading the race. Kurt Busch was first going into the final restart as he battled Gordon for the lead, but Hamlin came from out of nowhere to steal the win. As a result of winning, Hamlin will now go onto the next round of “The Chase.”

It was an intense first week of postseason racing that has already had an impact on some drivers’ chances at a championship already.

With Denny Hamlin pulling out a big win, here are five takeaways from Chicagoland.

1. Denny Hamlin is moving on in “The Chase”

Denny Hamlin had to start on 29th Sunday after qualifying was rained out. He had to deal with spinning out early in the race, but he overcame everything to pull out a big win and a spot in the next round of “The Chase” as the No. 11 team has championship aspirations in their sights.

Denny Hamlin, despite having a torn ACL, showed no signs of the injury and put together a strong few final laps to move past Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon for the win. By moving onto the next round, Hamlin can use the next couple of races to get ready for the what lies ahead.

Joe Gibbs Racing has been dominating all season and now they have another win.

2. Kevin Harvick’s title defense is in jeopardy

It was not a good day for Kevin Harvick at Chicagoland. After a poor week at Richmond, the struggles followed him to this week. He was having a great race until he battled with Jimmie Johnson for a top spot. The two got into each other and Kevin Harvick blew a tire and hit the wall.

That took him off the track and back to the garage.

For Harvick, that puts a huge dent into his championship defense hopes as he now falls behind in the “Chase” standings. It guarantees that he’s going to have to win one of the next two races, or he is going to be eliminated very quickly. What was looking like one of the best seasons in NASCAR history is about to be over soon, unless something big happens.

3. Don’t sleep on Hendrick Motorsports

The Hendrick Motorsports team hasn’t been the same lately. At Chicagoland, they were very good as Jeff Gordon led laps and battled for the win. Top seed in “The Chase” Jimmie Johnson had his moments near the front and Dale Earnhardt Jr. was around the top-10 spot again.

If the team is going to advance to the next round, they started exactly how they needed to. Wins are the most important thing in advancing, but driving smart will also help in the first round. Hendrick Motorsports looks rejuvenated and ready to compete for a championship.

4. NASCAR has had controversial restarts two weeks in a row

At Richmond last week, Matt Kenseth had what looked like an early restart that was ultimately deemed legal. That brought the ire of many that thought NASCAR was giving Joe Gibbs Racing the benefit of the doubt. This week, another issue on a restart arose during the race.

As Jeff Gordon and race leader Kyle Busch were getting ready to battle for the lead off a restart, it appeared Gordon had accelerated early to go past Busch. After a careful review, it was determined that Busch waited too long to go and what Gordon had done was legal.

These are tough judgment calls for NASCAR officials to make and certainly ones that could affect a race and potentially the first round of the playoffs. Good no-call by NASCAR.

5. Joe Gibbs Racing is off to a hot start in “The Chase”

Just like they have been doing the entire summer, Joe Gibbs Racing had most of their team up competing for the win. The chemistry among the team has been the best of any team in NASCAR and together they have all worked toward picking up wins all season long. It worked again on Sunday, when Denny Hamlin grabbed the win.

There’s going to come a point in “The Chase” where if they all advance further in the playoffs that helping each other will come to and. For right now, though, there’s an alliance between teammates on the track and they are using it to their advantage to be successful in races.

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