23 April 2012
Hamlin steals Kansas win from Truex Jr.
Martin Truex Jr. led for 173 of the 267 lap distance of the STP 400 Cup race on Sunday afternoon at Kansas, but Denny Hamlin got the last laugh at the chequered flag.
This weekend's STP 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway looked to be a lock for Michael Waltrip Racing's Martin Truex Jr. - but just when it seemed like a done deal, Denny Hamlin materialised to deny Truex a famous and much-needed victory in the closing laps.
Much of the race had been run under heavy cloud cover over the 1.5-mile oval, and the gloomy conditions suited Truex down to the ground. By contrast, Hamlin's sudden surge for the lead through turn 4 on lap 237 came just as the sun broke through and just after the final round of green flag pit stops. The combination of warmer weather and new tyres was just the tonic that Hamlin's #11 needed to grasp the race away from the winner-presumptive.
"I don't know what happened with that last set of tyres, they were terrible," said Truex after the race. "I couldn't go at all, was just dead sideways, wrecking. At the end of the run, I was back to being okay again, but by then he had already passed me and clean air is everything."
Polesitter AJ Allmendinger had earlier led the race to the green flag for the first 44 laps, but all the while he was cruising in front with Kevin Harvick there was ominous signs that Truex Jr. was implacably on the move up from sixth place. He'd dispatched Harvick for second by the time the first round of green flag pit stops came up around lap 45, and used the visit to pit lane to leap frog himself into the lead for the first time of the day. Allmendinger got held up by Greg Biffle exiting his pit box, and AJ's challenge ended more terminally soon after with problems with the throttle housing on the Penske #22.
The race proved to be a remarkably smooth affair, a total of three cautions (for 18 laps) the lowest seen at Kansas. Two of those were for debris, while the first of them on lap 53 was for a spin by Truex's MWR team mate Clint Bowyer in turn 4. Clint would be able to resume, but then had his engine finally let go on lap 139 to end his day for good.
"It was just a major bummer, I'm really upset — I just wish it wouldn't have happened here," said Bowyer. "This is the nature of the beast, unfortunately this happens from time to time ... It just wasn't our day. We'll regroup and go back after it in Richmond."
After that caution, Truex led Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski and Hamlin to the green flag, which was a messy, nail-biting affair after Harvick spun his wheels and Hamlin dived down to go three-wide at the restart. Somehow it managed not to be a major wreck, although Kyle Busch made an impression on the rear quarter panel of Greg Biffle's car in the ensuing bumps.
Truex took off and left Harvick and Kahne tangling over second place. Kahne was the first of three Hendrick cars at the front, with Jimmie Johnson in fourth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. a strong sixth. The final member of the squad - which was still seeking Hendrick's 200th team Cup series win - was Jeff Gordon in 12th place.
The next round of green flag pit stops just before the century mark, and saw Kasey Kahne and Kevin Harvick run dry before they could get onto pit road while Jimmie Johnson's crew had an issue with lug nuts. After the pit stops had cycled through, Truex's lead was now up to nine seconds over Denny Hamlin: Hamlin was soon displaced from second spot by Matt Kenseth on lap 116, who tried his best to cut the gap to the leader but made little impression.
Tagged as: Kasey Kahne , Jeff Gordon , A.J. Allmendinger , Clint Bowyer , Matt Kenseth , Brad Keselowski , Jimmie Johnson , Denny Hamlin , Kansas , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Martin Truex Jr.
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