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Deja Vu for Denny Hamlin at Kansas Speedway

Denny Hamlin

Denny Hamlin led 71 laps in Sunday’s AdventHealth 400 at Kansas Speedway. (Photo: Patrick Vallely | The Podium FInish)

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Denny Hamlin had a race win in at Kansas Speedway in the bag until a caution came out with less than 10 laps to go.

This was the storyline in last September’s Hollywood Casino 400, when varying pit strategies left Hamlin wondering what could have been.

That same scenario played out again on Sunday, as Hamlin lost the lead on the final restart and had to watch the closest finish in the history of the NASCAR Cup Series from his front windshield.

The record books will show a fifth-place finish in the AdventHealth 400.

“It’s tough for sure,” Hamlin said postrace. “There was no disputing the fastest car here. That’s for sure.”

A week after calling his shot at Dover, Hamlin looked to do the same on his “Actions Detrimental” podcast, stating that he’d score a fifth win at Kansas.

Despite a subpar qualifying effort, the four-time Kansas winner wasted no time showing who the field had to contend with.

Hamlin really showed his long-run speed after the cycle of green flag pit stops. He joined a fierce battle for the Stage 1 win with Kyle Larson, Ross Chastain and Christopher Bell.

Then, Hamlin pulled ahead on Lap 66 and won the stage from a 14th starting spot, his third stage win to go along with three race wins.

However, Hamlin’s biggest achilles heel Sunday was pit road, as he had issues with his of end of stage pit stops.

First, he went long into his stall and had trouble getting out around Austin Hill. In the second, Hamlin had to check up behind Ryan Preece, who was looking to enter his stall.

“I thought we were going to finish 20th,” Hamlin said. “Just one of those days where your emotions go up-and-down.”

As Hamlin looked to regain his track position, calamity befell the 1.5-mile track.

Denny Hamlin

Denny Hamlin has four wins at Kansas Speedway, the most among all drivers. (Photo: Patrick Vallely | The Podium Finish)

Four cautions littered the start of Stage 3, with no more than three green laps separating the calamity.

After the third wreck, collecting Harrison Burton, Hamlin led a group of drivers to pit lane to try and stretch the fuel mileage.

When Joey Logano immediately spun on the ensuing restart, the frontrunners followed suit down pit road, giving Hamlin back the track position he desperately coveted. As the next 57 laps ran green, Hamlin was engaged in a fierce battle with Stage 2 winner Chris Buescher.

The two traded the lead several times before Hamlin stretched the lead out, as both drivers looked to preserve more fuel. This stretch gave Hamlin 71 laps led on the day, a race high.

Late in the run, a new challenger appeared as Martin Truex Jr. flew to second on fresher tires. Before Truex had a chance to run Hamlin down, their former teammate, Kyle Busch, spun to bring out a caution.

The two drivers were split on who would have run had the final five laps run green.

“It was a curse,” Hamlin said when asked if the caution was a blessing or a curse. “We were going to win it.”

“I caught him like crazy the last lap before the caution,” Truex contested. “It was ours to lose.”

Hamlin came out first out of pit road, as nobody stayed on the race track.

He took the bottom on the restart in front of Larson, but Larson put him three-wide as Buescher went to the lead.

From there, Hamlin lost all momentum, and was forced to watch the thrilling finish ahead of him as he crossed the line fifth.

It’s another missed opportunity for Hamlin, but he says he doesn’t take for granted the speed that Joe Gibbs Racing has given him every week.

“It’s something I haven’t had in quite some time, if ever, in my career that every single week we’re one of the fastest fars,” Hamlin said. “But man, I really wish we would have just ran harder and won the race there had been no caution. That’s what makes racing so different.”

In September, Hamlin followed up Kansas disappointment with a victory at Bristol.

He looks to do the same next week at one of his best tracks, as the NASCAR Cup Series turns back the clock for next Sunday’s Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway.

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