NASCAR America: Why did Denny Hamlin battle Chase Elliott late in the race when he didn’t have to?

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Had he stayed on track and on focus, Denny Hamlin woulda, coulda, shoulda wound up with the final Championship 4 berth last weekend at Phoenix.

But he didn’t and it cost him possibly his first Cup championship.

On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, analysts Dale Jarrett, Jeff Burton and Nate Ryan broke down what happened in Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at Phoenix Raceway.

They discussed why, when Hamlin was ahead of Brad Keselowski, who was the only driver he should have worried about when it came to Hamlin’s hopes to reach the title race via points, he chose instead to race Chase Elliott for third place with less than 50 laps left.

Elliott had to win to advance. As long as he didn’t and Hamlin remained ahead of Keselowski, Hamlin would take the final transfer spot.

Instead, Hamlin raced Elliott. The result was Elliott moved Hamlin up the track, forcing Hamlin into the wall in what many portrayed as payback for Hamlin wrecking Elliott out of the lead two weeks ago at Martinsville. The contact at Phoenix led to a cut tire and sent Hamlin into the wall, ending his race and title hopes.

Here is what our analysts had to say (watch the video above for all their comments on the incident).

Dale Jarrett:

“Why was (Hamlin) even putting up a battle with someone, who we knew there was potential because just a few short weeks ago that things escalated to a bad situation at Martinsville with him? So why would you race that person when it didn’t make any difference?

“(Hamlin) goes out in the first two stages and does everything he needs to do, he’s doing well in the third stage. By then, he had set himself up to where all he had to do was beat (Keselowski). So I don’t understand why he was letting the (Elliott) affect him. If (Elliott) was going to pass him and go on to win the race, he couldn’t do anything there, so just focus on (Keselowski).

“I don’t understand why they weren’t telling Denny more that this isn’t your battle, the battle is still behind you and that’s all you have to worry about.”

Nate Ryan:

“There wasn’t a lot of communication telling Denny that Brad Keselowski is behind you. At that point, Brad had just catapulted into the top 10 due to some shrewd strategy by his crew chief, Paul Wolfe. … He got from the mid-teens into the top 10 and he was in Denny Hamlin’s mirror for the first time all race.

“I think he also had on his mind probably that he’s battling Chase Elliott for third and Chase is fast. If Elliott gets past him and gets the win, then it’s game over either way and Denny has no shot at advancing by points.”

Jeff Burton:

“What really confuses me is that there were comments on social media that Denny was trying to let Chase go.  … I don’t possibly see how that’s accurate. When you come off a corner side-by-side with a guy at a tight racetrack, that’s not letting the guy go.

“There was a bigger picture. Chase and Denny had two completely different agendas at this point in the race. Chase really had nothing to lose. If Chase didn’t win this race, he was not going to move forward.

“Denny didn’t have to win the race because of the great job he did in the first two stages. I just don’t think Denny and the 11 team didn’t respond to the great work they did in the first two stages. They didn’t need to race Chase, they just needed to let him go. Once (Elliott) is underneath you, just get on the brakes and slow down and let him go. I’m sorry, it’s not that hard.

“If you think you’re better than (Keselowski)) and you’re still racing (Elliott), that was not a good decision.”

 

Watch: Championship 4 drivers share thoughts on Miami outcome

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After 200 laps Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, William Byron claimed the Xfinity Series championship in his rookie year by finishing third in the Ford EcoBoost 300.

He finished ahead of his JR Motorsports teammates, Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier, and Richard Childress Racing’s Daniel Hemric.

Watch the above video for Byron’s first interview as a NASCAR champion.

Below are interviews with the remaining Championship 4 drivers.

Elliott Sadler

Sadler placed eighth in the race after contact with Ryan Preece with less than 10 laps to go cut a tire on his No. 1 Chevrolet. It Sadler’s fourth runner-up result in the points in his Xfinity career.

Justin Allgaier

Allgaier finished 12th in the race after struggling for most 300-mile event. He was competing without his primary crew chief, who had been suspended for the race. Chad Knaus, the seven-time champion crew chief in the Cup Series with Jimmie Johnson, helped out on the pit box for the No. 7 Chevrolet.

Daniel Hemric

Hemric finished last among the Championship 4 drivers in 34th after his No. 21 Chevrolet experienced battery problems early in Stage 2. Hemric spent 12 laps on pit road before returning to the race.

JR Motorsports sweeps top three in final Xfinity Series standings

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William Byron finished third in Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 to give JR Motorsports its second Xfinity title.

The team, co-owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr., swept the top-three spots in the final standings with Elliott Sadler placing second and Justin Allgaier in third.

Daniel Hemric placed fourth after finishing last among the Championship 4 drivers in the race.

Race-winner Cole Custer ends the season in fifth.

Click here for the points results.

Results, stats for Xfinity season finale at Miami

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Cole Custer led 182 laps to win the Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It’s his first Xfinity win and the first series win for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Custer swept all three stages of the race and beat Sam Hornish Jr., William Byron, Tyler Reddick and Ryan Preece.

Byron clinched the Xfinity title with his third-place finish.

Click here for results.

Devastated Elliott Sadler watches another title chance go away

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HOMESTEAD, Florida — Elliott Sadler’s fourth runner-up finish for the Xfinity title in the last seven years was a pain he had not felt before.

“I’d say tonight is the most devastating and down and out I’ve ever felt in my career,’’ Sadler said after finishing second to JR Motorsports teammate William Byron for the championship.

Sadler’s anger was directed at Ryan Preece, who slowed Sadler by challenging him for position and stalling Sadler’s momentum as Sadler tried to hold off Byron for the championship in the final 10 laps.

“We were in position to win this championship,’’ Sadler said. “We were there. He raced me hard and held me down and (Byron) got a run on us and he let (Byron) go. Very frustrating.’’

Byron took advantage by diving under Sadler and passing him. Sadler tried to get by Preece but made contact that caused his right front tire to go down. Sadler finished eighth, losing the championship to Byron, who placed third.

“To be that close and not win a championship is frustrating,’’ said the 42-year-old Sadler, who has not won a title in any of NASCAR’s top three national series. “I don’t have many years left, and I wanted to try to fulfill a childhood dream. I didn’t know it was going to come down to a guy that’s not even racing for anything to hold us down like that. No respect at all.’’

Preece said he was racing for something. He was in the No. 18 for Joe Gibbs Racing to compete for the car owner’s title.

“I’m just doing what I’m doing for Joe ,’’ Preece said. “They told me to race for the owners championship.’’

Sadler didn’t buy it when told what Preece said..

“He wasn’t because (Sam Hornish Jr.) was half a lap ahead of him,’’ Sadler said, referring to the Team Penske car that won the car owners title. “He wasn’t racing anybody.’’

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