KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Denny Hamlin bumped Kyle Larson off the lead heading onto the backstretch of the final lap Sunday, giving him a clear path to the finish line at Kansas Speedway and ending his Hamlin's 33-race winless drought in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Hamlin went to the front on the record 38th lead change of a chaotic race at Kansas for his fourth victory at the track and the 400th win overall for Joe Gibbs Racing. It was Hamlin's first trip to victory lane since last year's Coca-Cola 600.
“I was trying to side-draft him and clipped his left rear,” Hamlin said of the last-lap pass. “I'm glad he was able to finish.”
Larson had held Hamlin off for about 30 laps, despite fighting a rapidly loosening car. Hamlin had pulled up to his bumper with three laps to go but fell away crossing the start-finish line, then lined up for one more try that he made stick.
“I was really loose,” Larson said. “He was able to finally get my inside off two. It seemed he was side-drafting me aggressively. I don't know if he finally got me turned sideways, but turned me into the outside wall and he got the win.”
William Byron spent more than 50 laps riding around two laps down before rallying onto the lead lap, and even fighting for the lead down the stretch before finishing third. Bubba Wallace, who won the fall race at Kansas, was fourth and Ross Chastain rounded out the top five.
Chastain, who has drawn the ire of many drivers this season with his aggressiveness, found himself in another heated confrontation on pit road after the race. He had gotten into Noah Gragson with about 60 laps to go and sent him for a spin, and Gragson walked up to the Trackhouse Racing driver afterward to make his displeasure known.
Chastain eventually threw a right hook, Gragson tried to throw a punch of his own and crew members had to separate them.
“I'm sick and tired of it,” Gragson said of Chastain's driving style. “The guy runs into everyone. When you have guys like Chase Elliott and other guys telling you to beat his ass, everyone is just sick of him.”
Chastain accepted some of the blame for the spin but didn't have much to say about the punch.
“I got tight off four for sure,” he said. “Noah and I have a very similar attitude on the race track. We train together, we prepare together, we know every little bit about each other. I definitely crowded him out of four.”
Hamlin took the opening stage for his second of the season, and Martin Truex Jr. finished second after his win in last Monday's rain-delayed race at Dover. The top four spots and six of the top seven belonged to Toyota.
The second stage ended in a mess when a caution flew and the leaders pit with eight laps to go. Joey Logano took the lead, tying the Kansas Speedway record with the 26th change in the race. And when the green flag dropped, Kyle Busch jammed up behind a four-wide move and went for a spin, bringing out another caution and giving Logano the stage win.
Busch took umbrage over the radio with several drivers — including Chastain — before his crash. Afterward, he took aim at the performance of the Next Gen car, which he said made it too difficult to pass.
“Not racing like it once used to be,” Busch said after dropping an on-air expletive. “You're faster than a guy, you run him down three-tenths a lap and you stall when you get there. Part of it's the car. They can aero block you, pinch you, burn up your tires and do everything else to hold their position and then you get passed from behind. Very frustrating.”
Tyler Reddick's car failed inspection twice on Saturday, resulting in the ejection of car chief Michael Hobson, while Brennan Poole lost car chief Dave Jones when his car also failed twice. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. started at the back after having to change his water pump gauge and Corey LaJoie joined him in the rear after making some pre-race adjustments.
Next week is the “Throwback Weekend” at Darlington, and it's increasingly become a family affair. Elliott's No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports will look like his father Bill Elliott's car from 2003; Ryan Blaney's No. 12 will pay homage to father Dave Blaney's old sprint car; and the No. 21 of Harrison Burton will look like father Jeff Burton's old paint scheme.
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