Denny Hamlin passed up fresh tires in favor of track position and it paid big dividends Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway as the Joe Gibbs Racing driver won the opening event of the 2015 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
While most of the front-runners pitted for tires on the day’s final caution, Hamlin, along with race leader Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon, rolled the dice and remained on the track.
On the restart, Hamlin quickly disposed of Busch and Gordon, and led the final five laps to post his second victory of the season and qualify for the next round of the Chase that begins October 10th in Charlotte. Hamlin’s margin of victory was one second over runner-up Carl Edwards as Joe Gibbs Racing finished one-two. Busch took third place at the checkered flag while Gordon faded to fourteenth. Ryan Newman placed fourth and Matt Kenseth completed the top five.
Defending Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick finished forty-second in the forty-three-car field. Contact from Jimmie Johnson during a restart midway through the race damaged the left side of Harvick’s car which led to a cut tire, sending him into the wall and to the garage for repairs. He was running at the finish of Sunday’s race but completed only 209 of the 267 laps.
Hamlin’s win was the ninth victory in the last twelve races for J-G-R. It’s his twenty-sixth career Cup Series win, tying Hamlin with Hall of Fame driver Fred Lorenzen for twenty-seventh place on NASCAR’s all-time list. Kenseth’s fifth-place finish lifted him into first place in the Chase standings, two points ahead of Hamlin.