Denny Hamlin entered the Bluegreen Vacations 500 in need of a clutch performance to sneak his way into the Championship 4 field. He delivered in a big way, leading 143 laps en route to a victory at ISM Raceway outside Phoenix.
Hamlin and Kyle Busch, the Joe Gibbs duo who finished 1-2 on Sunday, will join Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. in next week’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Ryan Blaney (third), Kyle Larson (fourth), Joey Logano (ninth) and Chase Elliott (39th) were the four drivers eliminated.
It appeared for the majority of the afternoon that Hamlin would cruise to the checkered flag. His No. 11 car pushed the lead to over 10 seconds and nipped a number of drivers off the lead lap in a dominating Stage 3.
A late caution caused plenty of drama in the final laps, though. John Hunter Nemecheck, who finished 27th, went into the wall and brought out a yellow flag with just eight laps to go, erasing Hamlin’s comfortable lead. Hamlin was visibly upset when he noticed the flag come out, banging his hand against the steering wheel in frustration.
In championship-like fashion, however, Hamlin responded. He held off challenges by both Busch and Ryan Blaney on a chaotic restart and captured the checkered flag three laps later.
Sporting News tracked live race updates and lap-by-lap highlights from NASCAR’s Cup Series semifinal on Sunday.
Bluegreen Vacations 500: 2019 winner, top-20 order of finish
NASCAR at Phoenix live race updates, highlights
5:34 p.m.: CHECKERED FLAG. Hamlin wins. It will be Harvick, Truex, Hamlin and Kyle Busch in the Championship 4.
5:32 p.m.: Green flag is back in the air as Hamlin and Blaney are 1-2, both in must-win situations.
5:27 p.m.: CAUTION. John Hunter Nemecheck hits the wall and the yellow flag is out with just nine laps remaining. The flag negates Hamlin’s massive lead and they will have to line it up again. Hamlin needs to win to make the Championship 4. Leaders are in for a pit.
5:22 p.m.: Hamlin’s lead remains steady over the rest of the field with 20 laps to go.
5:06 p.m.: The top three drivers remain unchanged after pits: Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Blaney.
4:59 p.m.: The leaders are beginning to come in for pit stops under green flag with 67 laps remaining.
4:56 p.m.: Hamlin puts Logano a lap down on Lap 239.
4:53 p.m.: Hamlin’s lead over Kyle Busch is now 10 seconds. Logano has fallen to 12th and is the final car on the lead lap.
4:47 p.m.: Logano has slipped all the way to seventh. Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney is the top three.
4:40 p.m.: Hamlin’s lead is now over four seconds over Kyle Busch, who is three seconds ahead of Logano.
4:31 p.m.: Kyle Busch is now battling Logano for the second position. Just a point between those two drivers separates the Champion 4 cut line.
4:28 p.m.: Hamlin snags the lead from Logano on Lap 177.
4:26 p.m.: Logano, Hamlin and Kyle Busch lead the field back on the green flag.
4:18 p.m.: CAUTION. Elliott goes hard into the wall after likely having a tire go down. That will end his 2019 championship hopes.
4:14 p.m.: Green flag.
4:04 p.m.: Logano wins Stage 2.
4:03 p.m.: Hamlin and Elliott are engaged in a multi-lap battle for second. Neither driver is gaining the upper edge.
3:55 p.m.: Elliott is closing in on Logano. His lead is now just half of a second.
3:44 p.m.: Logano’s lead has ballooned to over three seconds now as we reach Lap 110.
3:38 p.m.: Elliott mentions on his team radio that he is having a power-steering issue. He still remains in second, 2.5 seconds behind Logano.
3:34 p.m.: Logano takes the lead with Elliott behind him in second.
3:33 p.m.: Green flag is back out as Stage 2 is underway.
3:25 p.m.: Hamlin wins Stage 1.
3:20 p.m.: Keselowski takes the green flag on the restart following the pit stops. Hamlin quickly surges to take over the top spot.
3:18 p.m.: CAUTION. The first caution flag of the day is out on Lap 67 as Ricky Stenhouse makes contact with the wall in Turn 4. The leaders will come in to pit.
3:09 p.m.: There are 22 cars on the lead lap as Busch remains in first through the first 50 laps.
2:58 p.m.: Busch’s lead over Hamlin is nearly 1.5 seconds as each of the eight playoff drivers are within the top 10.
2:51 p.m.: Kyle Busch has yet to relinquish the lead after 12 laps and Hamlin has moved up to second (now 17 points off the cut line).
2:47 p.m. Green flag.
NASCAR championship standings 2019
Here is the complete breakdown of clinching scenarios for Sunday’s race.
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