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Hamlin steals Kansas win from Truex Jr.

The first of the day's two debris cautions came on lap 132, just before the halfway point of the race. Truex was still in front ahead of Kenseth and Hamlin, while Johnson was back up to fourth ahead of Earnhardt Jr. With Kenseth dropping back, the restart proved to be Johnson's best chance of challenging for the lead as he blasted past Hamlin on lap 156 and then tightened right up on the back of Truex seeking a way past - which Truex made sure simply wasn't there, even when the leaders started to hit slower traffic.

That took the race through to another round of green flag pit stops which did little to change the order at the front which remained Truex ahead of Johnson, Hamlin, Earnhardt and Kenseth. But a couple of laps after the stops had been concluded, Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing's Juan Pablo Montoya slapped the wall: it didn't bring out an immediate caution, but debris from the incident forced a yellow on lap 187.

With the caution coming so soon after the most recent round of stops, most the leaders all stayed out on track preferring position to fresh tyres, although Johnson and Greg Biffle were among those to come in. Truex proved the efficacy of his decision to stay out once again immediately pulling out at the front at the restart, soon over a second ahead of the second place man which was now Hamlin once more.

There were no more cautions to come during the race, although Tony Stewart tapped the wall on lap 207 and Jeff Gordon started losing his engine on lap 238, finally getting black flagged by NASCAR before he could blow up and deposit fluids all over the track. Mark Martin's engine also gave up the ghost just a dozen laps form the end of the race, and Kurt Busch also suffered late engine heartbreak in the Phoenix Racing car. Chilly conditions were said to be putting extra strain on the engine units on the demanding Kansas oval.

No cautions meant that the final round of pit stops were another scramble under green: Truex came in on lap 223 with Greg Biffle for their final stops, a lap after Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson had come in. They were in turn a lap longer than Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick. Sam Hornish Jr. was the last man to come onto pit road ten laps later, which finally handed the race lead back to Truex.

But Truex's tyres suddenly weren't nearly as good on this stint, and when the cloud cover broke and the track suddenly started to enjoy the warmth of the sun for the first time it was Hamlin's car responded better to the changing conditions. Suddenly Truex's peerless form all afternoon evaporated. Hamlin was right on the back of him, and on lap 237 he took the lead.

"Denny was able to get by me, and once he did, the race was over," summed up a dismayed Truex. "To put tyres on and touch the car and all of a sudden the car drives worse than it has all day, it is pretty frustrating."

"I felt like our car lost a lot of grip when the sun came out," admitted Hamlin. "But I guess a lot of guys did when that happened ... In overcast conditions, the cars run a little bit tighter, the grip level's higher in the race car, and it's more of a track-position type race. When the sun's out, the drivers, in my opinion, are more prominent.

"You move around, find the grip, do things in the car to make up for what you don't have. The slicker the conditions are, the better," said Hamlin. "Luckily, we had that run in sunshine ... I felt like all day I was behind the #56, and his car looked so superior to the field," added Hamlin. "I knew that he was driving his heart out as well as I was driving mine."

Hamlin certainly didn't feel that he had it in the bag once he hit the front, either: "Once I got to the lead, I felt like I got a little bit complacent mainly on corner entry, just being careful," he recalled. "But, what got me the lead was driving hard, and so I needed to get back to that, and that's kind of where we were able to stretch it out."




Related Pictures

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Martin Truex Jr. charges to the lead during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 400 on Sunday at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan. (Photo Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s/Superman Chevrolet SS, celebrates his 77th career victory Sunday, March 20, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Gregg Ellman for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s/Superman Chevrolet SS, celebrates his 77th career victory with a wave of the chequered flag Sunday, March 20, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. (Photo by Garry Eller for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s/Superman Chevrolet SS, celebrates his 77th career victory, Sunday, March 20, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. (Photo by Harold Hinson for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s/Superman Chevrolet SS, celebrates his 77th career victory, Sunday, March 20, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. (Photo by Harold Hinson for Chevy Racing)

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