Denny Hamlin wins Stage 2 of Cup playoff race at Phoenix Raceway

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Denny Hamlin dominated to win Stage 2 of the Can-Am 500 at Phoenix Raceway.

Hamlin, who is seeking to qualifying for the final spot in next week’s championship race, led every green flag lap in the 75-lap stage.

Hamlin led Matt Kenseth, Erik Jones, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Chase Elliott and Clint Bowyer across the line.

The stage ended under caution after defending champion Jimmie Johnson blew a tire and hit the wall in Turn 3 on the last lap. Johnson entered the race last in the playoff standings, 51 points back from Brad Keselowski for the final transfer spot. Johnson will not have a chance to win a record eighth Cup title next week.

“Hate it for this team, they’ve worked so hard all year long and I’m proud of their efforts,” Johnson told NBCSN. “We’ll come back next year and try real hard.”

Johnson will finish 39th.

Keselowski finished the stage in 13th. He entered the race holding on to the final transfer spot, 19 points ahead of Hamlin. In the first two stages, Hamlin earned 19 stage points, while Keselowski scored none for the second race in a row.

Keselowski and Hamlin are tied entering the final stage of the race.

Kyle Larson, who led 11 laps and won Stage 1, exited the race on Lap 104 with an engine problem. It’s his fourth DNF in a row and his second for losing an engine.

“It’s unfortunate,” Larson told NBCSN. “Crappy way to end the season. Thought I had by far the best car here today. I was really happy about that. … Definitely the best car I had at Phoenix.”

Larson finished 39th at Kansas after engine problems and 37th at Martinsville and Texas after wrecks. He will finish 40th today.

The race is scheduled to end on Lap 312.

NASCAR America: Championship contenders part of Homestead-Miami test

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With only three races left until the NASCAR season ends at Homestead-Miami Speedway, some of the remaining playoff contenders got a chance to take part in a two-day test at the 1.5-mile track.

Eight teams were present for the test, including five of the eight that are still in the playoffs.

Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Denny Hamlin and defending race winner and champion Jimmie Johnson took part.

NASCAR America analysts Jeff Burton and Parker Kligerman discussed what teams can gain from the test, especially this close to the championship race.

“You have sometimes where it’s a younger driver who is trying actually to learn the track, it’s invaluable seat time,” Kligerman said. “(Jimmie Johnson) doesn’t need to learn that track. He knows how to get around there, he knows how to win. But he also knows the feel he’s looking for within that race car to make it as good as it has been when he’s won there before.”

Said Burton: “When you have a test in April, you’re more testing setups, you’re more testing principles and ideas. But it’s very difficult for this test, (for) the last race of the year, to not be specifically about that race track. Because when you go back, there’s so much on the line. If you’re testing in May and June, you’re thinking big picture.”

Watch the above video to hear from drivers at the test and more.

Jimmie Johnson survives multiple accidents to advance in playoffs

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Jimmie Johnson‘s championship hopes were in peril on Lap 197 of Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway.

They were saved on Lap 198 by a 14-car crash that Johnson narrowly made it through.

Johnson, who finished 11th in the playoff elimination race, had come off consecutive spins on Laps 189 and 194 and trips to pit road for repairs when the wreck broke out on restart following his second spin. The first spin had sent his No. 48 Chevrolet sliding through the rain-soaked grass in the infield.

“The car was extremely loose,” Johnson told NBCSN. “We fought the balance throughout the day and the car would swing so hard. We were trying for short run speed to free the car up and we just got too far with it and I spun out twice. Thankfully I didn’t hit anything too hard.

“And when things really changed was down the back straightaway in that wreck. Somehow, I went through there at a high rate of speed and missed everybody. I don’t know how, but I made it. And then the No. 1 (Jamie McMurray) car was sitting there and I thought I had him lined-up for a square impact, but fortunately he slid out of the way. … It wasn’t a pretty day, but we got it done.”

Chad Knaus, Johnson’s crew chief, had less kind words for his team’s day.

“We ran like (expletive),” Knaus told NBC Sports. “It was a bad weekend. We managed to capitalize on some other people’s misfortune, which was great for us. We’ve got some work to do. I don’t know what’s going on. We definitely don’t have the speed that we need.

“Good news is we’ve got three really good racetracks coming up for us, at least historically. Very optimistic heading into Martinsville and going to Homestead this week to test, so hopefully we can hit on some stuff there to take to Texas. We’ve obviously have run well there in the past. Phoenix has been a really good race track for us as well. We’ve got three great opportunities. Just got to do the best.’’

Johnson is the active wins leader at Martinsville with nine. He is the defending winner of the fall race. It is his only top five in the last six races at the short track.

“It’s not a bad track for us,” Johnson said. “Hopefully we can repeat last year’s performance there. And then we have Texas coming up. We’re not where we want to be. There’s no doubt about it. But, we’re staying alive and I know this team so well, we can find something and we’re going to sure as hell try to get it.”

Johnson is also the defending winner at Texas Motor Speedway, where he earned one of his three wins this year in April.

At Phoenix, Johnson has four wins, but the last one came in 2009. He also only has one top five there in his last six starts.

Johnson heads into the Round of 8 seeded fifth in the standings with 4,017 points.

“It’s not back to zero with all those stage points,” Johnson said. “For us to advance moving forward, we’ve got to win.  We’ve got to win one of these next few races coming up.  It’s really simple from our standpoint.  We’ve got to get some speed in our cars and we’ve got to win a race.”

In his quest to win a record eighth Cup championship, Johnson has earned just four top fives this season. His third-place finish at Dover in the final race of the first playoff round is the only one since his June win also at Dover.

Johnson is the only driver who has won a race in every season of the playoffs entering 2017. He has four races left to continue the streak.

Stats, results for Cup playoff elimination race at Kansas

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Martin Truex Jr. led 91 laps and bounced back from an early restart violation to win his seventh Cup race of the year in the playoff elimination race at Kansas Speedway.

The win by Truex in the Hollywood Casino 400 is a Cup record sixth win this year on a 1.5-mile track.

Truex was followed by Kurt Busch, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin.

Matt Kenseth, Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were eliminated from the playoffs.

Click here for the full results.

MORE: Martin Truex Jr. wins at Kansas; Kenseth, Larson, McMurray, Stenhouse Jr. eliminated

MORE: Martin Truex Jr. remains at top of heap as NASCAR Cup playoffs advance to Round of 8

Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray eliminated from race after massive Lap 198 crash


Matt Kenseth and fellow playoff driver Jamie McMurray were involved in a 14-car crash on Lap 198 of the elimination race at Kansas Speedway.

The crash began when Erik Jones got loose, spun and began collecting cars.

The crash caused a red flag.

Kenseth was ruled out of the race after too many crew members went over the wall to repair his No. 20 Toyota. That effectively eliminates the Joe Gibbs Racing driver from contending for the championship. McMurray is also eliminated from contention.

“I don’t know what any of the rules are,” Kenseth told NBCSN. “It seems like we’ve got a lot of stuff that kind of gets changed so often I honestly can’t keep up with it. My head kind of spins, from putting lug nuts on out of pit boxes to one too many guys over the wall, you’re not allowed to race anymore. I just don’t get it to be honest with you. I really don’t have a lot good to say right now. I’m more than disappointed.”

The crash involved Jones, Kenseth, McMurray, Daniel Suarez, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, Aric Almirola, Danica Patrick, Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Trevor Bayne, Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski.

Kenseth’s crew chief, Jason Ratcliffe, blamed the mistake on miscommunication and simply not counting the number of crew members who were over the wall.

“We missed a head count there. It’s a shame that that’s a rule that takes competitors out of an opportunity for the championship,” Ratcliffe said. “Somebody just missed the call there or I didn’t communicate properly. Typically it boils down to communication and I think that’s what happened there.”

Said McMurray: “I was really looking forward to just getting to the end of the race. Like I said earlier, we just needed the pit stops to go our way or the strategy to get shook up, and it was kind of happening right there. You just hope that you’re going to be on the right end of the strategy. And then if the race would have gone long, we had one of the best cars on the long runs. But, you just don’t know. You race all day to the end, and we just didn’t make it today.”