Denny Hamlin back in Sprint Cup victory lane despite back problems

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For crew chief Mike Wheeler, Sunday morning of the Sprint Cup race at Waktins Glen International began with news, the kind that’s “not something you really want to hear.”

A text message from his driver Denny Hamlin said Hamlin “was in trouble.”

The Daytona 500 winner had just woken up and something wasn’t right with his back. Hamin recognized the feeling, despite not having major problems with his back “in the past four to five years.”

“I don’t know what causes it,” Hamlin said Sunday after winning his second race of the year, diagnosing it as potentially sleeping in a bad position or due to race travel disrupting his exercise regimen.  “It just happens every now and then. It’s never happened on a race day, for sure.”

The Cheez-It 355 was scheduled to start at 2:49 p.m. ET. Hamlin had to endure a lot of pain before he could even climb into his No. 11 Toyota, which was sixth on the starting grid.

“We worked on it all day to try to make it better. We really didn’t make it much better,” said Hamlin. “If it was Friday or Saturday, no question I wouldn’t have turned one lap today. It was by far the worst conditions I’ve ever had to drive in, over the knees, anything else. This was by far the worst pain‑wise I’ve had to go through.”

This was coming from the driver who won at Texas Motor Speedway in April 2010 three weeks after undergoing surgery to repair ligaments in his left knee. Hamlin is the driver that raced through the entire Chase for the Sprint Cup in 2015 – including winning the opener at Chicagoland – after tearing his other ACL two weeks before its start and putting off surgery until the offseason.

In April 2015, Hamlin was even replaced by Erik Jones following a lengthy rain delay at Bristol Motor Speedway after pulling something in his neck, the pain from which “was bothering me quite a bit” Hamlin said.

On Sunday, Hamlin’s back was bothering him so much, he couldn’t even sit during the driver-crew chief meeting that began at 12:30 p.m. ET, about two hours before the race – which was 90 laps and 220.9 miles long – began.

Wheeler, in his first season as Hamlin’s Sprint Cup crew chief after years of working together, sat next to his driver.

“You could just tell he was in pain. Nothing you could do today to fix it,” Wheeler said. “He’s had this happen before years ago. But he knows the situation he was in and he knows he’s got to tough it out, and he did.”

When it comes to race length, you can’t factor in the unpredictability of wrecks or their severity. Twice the race was red-flagged, the first for 13 minutes and 19 seconds and the second, with five laps remaining, lasted for just under 17 minutes.

That was 17 minutes extra minutes of stewing in pain for Hamlin, who also happened to be in the lead after claiming it on a Lap 81 restart when Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski overshot Turn 1.

With Martin Truex Jr. and Keselowski behind him, Hamlin was in the best – albeit the most uncomfortable – position he’d ever been in to win a road course race in his 12-year career.

“Trust me, I’m sitting there, even though I’m joyed that we’re leading the race, I was thinking under the red flag, ‘Let’s get this over with so I can get out of this car,'” Hamlin admitted.

After two hours, 27 minutes and 48 seconds, Hamlin finally got out of his car, but he did so very slowly. The smoke from Hamlin’s celebratory burnout that ravaged his tires was still in the air and his teammates were running down pit road to celebrate. Hamlin slowly crept to the pit wall.

Unlike the smoke, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver couldn’t linger. He was needed elsewhere to celebrate his 28th Sprint Cup win, which redeemed his last turn mistake at Sonoma Raceway in June that gave Tony Stewart his 49th win.

On a bad back and with his car temporarily immobile on bad tires, Hamlin trudged into Victory Lane like a runner bringing up the tail end of a marathon.

“Honestly it’s more validating because I feel so awful,” Hamlin said. “There were many corners that I under‑drove just because my feel wasn’t as good today in the race car. That’s how we feel the edge is through our back side. When our back side is not healthy, it’s tough. That’s what made it extra special, is that when it was game time, when it was go time, we got it done.”

Six cars to miss time in final Cup practice session

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas – Six Cup teams, including playoff contenders Chase Elliott and Jamie McMurray, will each miss 15 minutes of today’s final practice session at Kansas Speedway because of inspection issues, NASCAR announced.

Three teams were penalized 15 minutes in Saturday morning’s first practice – Derrike Cope, Landon Cassill and AJ Allmendinger. Each were penalized for being late to qualifying inspection Friday.

Teams penalized 15 minutes in final Cup practice will be Elliott, McMurray, Cope, Trevor Bayne, Paul Menard and Aric Almirola.

Bayne, Elliott and Almirola were penalized for failing qualifying/race inspection twice at Talladega.

Cope, McMurray and Menard were penalized for failing qualfiying qualifying inspection twice at Kansas.

Final Cup practice is scheduled from 1:30 – 2:20 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Today’s Xfinity race at Kansas: Start time, weather, TV/radio info

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The Xfinity Series begins the second round of its playoffs with today’s Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway.

Here is all the info you need for the race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Kansas Lt. Gov. Dr. Jeff Colyer will give the command to start engines at 2:56 p.m. Green flag is scheduled for 3:05 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 200 laps (300 miles) around the 1.5-mile oval.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 45. Stage 2 ends at Lap 90.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Qualifying is slated for 12:05 p.m. Driver introductions are at 2:25 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Mary Ann Hotaling will perform the anthem at 2:51 p.m..

TV/RADIO:  NBC will broadcast the race at 3 p.m. Coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. on NBCSN with Countdown to Green. Motor Racing Network will broadcast the race on radio and at mrn.com, starting with its pre-race show at 2:30 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts a temperature of 76 degrees and a 15 percent chance of rain at race time.

LAST TIME: Kyle Busch dominated this race last fall, leading 150 of 200 laps. Elliott Sadler finished second. Daniel Suarez was third.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying is at 12:05 p.m.

Saturday’s NASCAR Cup, Xfinity schedule at Kansas Speedway

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Today’s racing action at Kansas Speedway includes two NASCAR Cup practices, as well as Xfinity qualifying and race.

Today’s Xfinity race will be the first in the Round of 8, which will determine the four finalists for next month’s championship race.

Here is today’s schedule:

(All times are Eastern)

8 a.m. — Xfinity garage opens

9:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. — Cup garage open

11 – 11:55 p.m. — Second Cup practice (NBC Sports App, MRN)

12:05 p.m. – Xfinity qualifying (multi-vehicle, three rounds) (NBCSN)

1:15 p.m. – Xfinity driver/crew chief meeting

1:30 – 2:20 p.m. – Final Cup practice (NBCSN, MRN)

2:30 p.m. – Xfinity driver introductions

3 p.m. – Kansas 300 Xfinity race (200 laps, 300 miles) (NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Ryan Blaney’s car fails inspection after qualifying

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas – Playoff contender Ryan Blaney’s car failed inspection after qualifying third Friday night at Kansas Speedway, NASCAR announced.

NASCAR stated that the car’s package tray did not maintain its original shape. That is the metal that holds the rear window in place.

Blaney will start last in the 40-car field and have the last pick of pit stalls this weekend and next weekend at Martinsville Speedway. There will be no further penalties.

Team co-owner Eddie Wood said:

“The rules are pushed to the max in every area, and today the NASCAR officials found something they didn’t like about our car. We’re not disputing their decision. We’ll own it and move on.

“We’ll work on our car in Saturday’s practice, line up in the back on Sunday and look forward to watching Ryan drive his way to the front.”

Blaney enters Sunday’s elimination race two points ahead of Jimmie Johnson, who holds the eighth final transfer spot for the next round. Kyle Busch is nine points behind Blaney and Matt Kenseth is 10th.

Four of the 12 playoff contenders will be eliminated after Sunday’s race.

By starting at the rear, Blaney will be challenged to be in the top 10 by Lap 80 to score stage points. If he doesn’t, he could fall behind Johnson and Busch after the first stage.

Below is Section 20.4.17.8 of the Cup Rule Book, which features a diagram of the package tray

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