Anne Proffit (Motor Authority) – Denny Hamlin is starting to forget the horrors of his 2011 season, a year when he was expected to challenge for the championship but never did. Thus far in 2012, Hamlin has two victories, taking his second win today on the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway oval, where repaving began just minutes after the checkered flat for the STP 400. The Kansas oval will become a 17-20 degree variable banking racetrack when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns later this year.
Hamlin led twice in his No. 11 FedEx Toyota for 32 laps in the 267-lap contest to earn his 19th career victory, leading fellow Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr to the checkered flags after the Michael Waltrip Racing driver led a race high 173 laps in his No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Camry race car. With this result Truex Jr moved to second in the points, 15 behind leader Greg Biffle.
Hamlin credited his crew chief Darian Grubb for making the call to “bring me in one lap early and just a great team effort today. The pit crew did an amazing job on that green flag pit stop,” he said. Noting that all the Toyota teams work together, “Our main goal is to run well for Toyota and make them a championship contender and a championship manufacturer.”
Truex’s problem was his final set of Goodyear tires. “I’m just disappointed right now – we had them. I don’t know what happened with that last set of tires, but they were terrible. I couldn’t go at all–was just dead sideways [nearly] wrecking. At the end of the run,” he said, “I was back to being okay again but by then he had already passed me and clean air is everything.”
Five time champion Jimmie Johnson came from 15th on the grid to finish third in a special Earth Day green No. 48 Lowes Chevrolet, “just watching from third spot, just hopeful that those guys would get a little aggressive and give me an opportunity. I watched the 11 get by the 56, and I just wish I was closer to those guys to race for it,” Johnson said.
The Roush Fenway duo of Matt Kenseth (No. 17 Ford EcoBoost) and points leader Biffle in the No. 16 3M Novec 1230 Ford came home fourth and fifth. “It was a good run for us, not great,” said Kenseth, who won this year’s rain-delayed Daytona 500. “I wish we could have got up there and iced it up with the top two a little more, but overall it was a solid day.” Teammate Biffle found the 400-mile grind tough: “We were back and forth all day and just off a little bit.”
Kevin Harvick came back from running out of fuel under green early in the race to take sixth in the No. 29 Rheem Chevy after starting on the front row, while Dale Earnhardt Jr earned seventh place in his No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevy. Kasey Kahne’s No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevy and Carl Edwards’ No. 99 Aflac Ford rounded out the top 10.
After the race ended, trucks and tanks entered the circuit and began tearing up the surface in preparation for the resurfacing. The top finishing Dodge of Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger R/T), after his 11th place finish climbed into one of the Abrams tanks and began scuttling the pavement.
Next week the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads for the 3/4-mile Richmond International Raceway oval, one of the most fun tracks on the circuit. Biffle leads the points, with Truex Jr., Kenseth, Earnhart Jr, Hamlin, Harvick, Johnson, Tony Stewart (who finished 13th today), Edwards and Ryan Newman rounding out the top 10, all separated by 63 points.
Just 18 points separate the manufacturers’ points, with Chevy leading Ford, Toyota and Dodge. Jack Roush leads the owners’ points for the No. 16 with 273, with a two-way tie for second between John Henry (No. 17) and Rick Hendrick for the No. 88 at 254 points. Hendrick is still looking for his 200th win–will it come at Richmond?