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Texas win puts Hamlin in Sprint Cup lead

The race was just six laps shy of the lead when Patrick Carpentier brought out the ninth and final caution on lap 328, setting up a high-stakes restart with everything to play for. Harvick opted to pit for fresh tyres but eight cars stayed out, Hamlin and Johnson among them, meaning Harvick would start from tenth and have to hustle and go three-wide to make up the lost ground in the two laps remaining between the restart and the chequered flag.

Biffle's gear problems once again played a critical role at the restart: this time hindering Jimmie Johnson. Up front, Hamlin was trying to fend off a spirited charge from Matt Kenseth, and initially it seemed that Kenseth had taken the lead going into the final lap - only for Kenseth to overcook it and make contact with the wall, losing the lead before the scoring line and white flag, and crucially losing momentum that meant Hamlin was able to run the final lap to the finish without further challenge.

It was a smart, mature display from Hamlin, working his way through the field, sticking close to the top ten throughout, never feeling the need to barge his way to the front until the final 28 laps when it really mattered. It deservedly puts him at the top of the Sprint Cup standings, and while 33pts is far from safe in a series where the winner can claim 200pts in a weekend it's certainly a boost to his championship hopes at the most critical time of the year. And Kevin Harvick is far from out of contention in third place, just 59pts back.

Meanwhile, going into the final two races from behind rather than out in front will come as a major shock to Johnson and Knaus, whose aura of Chase infallibility takes a dent following the need to swap out the entire pit crew midrace - a moment of ruthlessness, or of blind panic? Either way could have serious consequences to the team in the final two weeks.





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Hamlin Wins Michigan
Chase Elliott, drive driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning during the NASCAR Nationwide Series EnjoyIllinios.com 300 at Chicagoland Speedway on July 19, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series EnjoyIllinois.com 300 race at Chicagoland Speedway on July 19, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series EnjoyIllinois.com 300 race at Chicagoland Speedway on July 19, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 Napa Auto Parts Chevrolet, wins the EnjoyIllinois.com 300 race at Chicagoland Speedway on July 19, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Cars race after a restart lead by Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 Napa Auto Parts Chevrolet (L), Ryan Blaney, driver of the #22 Hertz Ford and Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Cartwheel by Target Chevrolet (R) during the EnjoyIllinois.com 300 race at Chicagoland Speedway on July 19, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 AutoTrader.com Ford, and Morgan Shepherd, driver of the #33 Little Joe`s Autos Chevrolet, crash during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 13, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Redds Ford, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 13, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Redds Ford, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 13, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Redds Ford, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 13, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Redds Ford, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 13, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
A view of the track during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 13, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Crew chief Chad Knaus inspects the car of Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, after a crash during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 13, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, lead the field at the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 13, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, crashes in the early part of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 13, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #22 Hertz Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning during the NASCAR Nationwide Series Sta-Green 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 12, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Aric Almirola (R), driver of the #43 Charter Ford, inspects his car after crashing during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 12, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski in the garage at Martinsville Speedway (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

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