Denny Hamlin had a near-perfect night at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
In addition to becoming the first driver in 2020 to win both stages and the race. Hamlin led 137 laps en route to his third win of the season and his third victory at Homestead. Despite repeated challenges from contenders almost half of his age, the 39-year-old driver remained patient and extended his lead over Chase Elliott by .895-seconds at the line.
Hamlin held serve for his 40th Cup victory, tying him for 19th on the all-time win list with Mark Martin.
"Our car was really good," Hamlin said. "This is a setup based off of what we had in the fall here last year going for the championship. Had a strong car all day. Obviously, with the laps led and was able to get around Chase (Elliott) there at the end. This whole FedEx team has just done a phenomenal job. This Camry is real special. Have to thank Coca-Cola, Jordan Brand, FedEx and all of our partners. Everyone at JGR for putting together great race cars and keep digging to make oursevles a little bit better.”
Ryan Blaney, Tyler Reddick, Aric Almirola, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Christopher Bell, William Byron and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top 10.
For rookies Reddick and Bell, the finishes were the best of their respective Cup careers.
“We had really good speed early on in our Chevy Cares Camaro,” said Reddick who started 24th. “The men and women at RCR did a really good job of bringing a really good fast race car here at the end. We used that to our advantage over the first 30 laps to get into the top 10—and from there we started to fine-tune it and make it better to run the fence. But then at times, it was better from the top seam. It was just a struggle to figure out what lane was going to be better for me and to get the lead and hold it. Unfortunately, we just got too tight there, to really trying to get all we could get through Turn 1 to make the fence work.
“It’s all good, a solid effort. I won the last two times I was here, granted it was in an Xfinity car, but ripping the fence with three of the best…and somehow, kept it out of the wall for most of the night—all three of us—it was just a good fought battle.”
NASCAR had a tough time getting out of the blocks on Sunday. Despite a 3:30 start, the race didn’t get rolling until 4. Then after a handful of laps—and nearly three hours of weather delays for rain and lightning—the race started taking shape with Hamlin, Blaney, Elliott and Reddick exchanging the top four positions.
Hamlin took the lead from Blaney on Lap 76 and held on for the Stage 1 win. He retained the lead out of the pits for the Lap 88 restart. Elliott quickly moved to the point but was replaced by Blaney three laps later. Following green-flag pit stops that started on Lap 120, Hamlin cycled back to the lead on Lap 123. While the young guns battled behind the No. 11 Toyota, Hamlin maintained the lead for his second stage win on Lap 160 with Reddick, Elliott, Blaney and Byron in tow.
Hamlin took command of the second half of the race until green-flag stops. Elliott was the first of the fearless foursome to hit pit road on Lap 217. That played to the No. 9 Chevrolet’s advantage as Elliott cycled back to the lead on Lap 221. Four laps later, Elliott led the way by two seconds over Hamlin. Blaney and Reddick followed.
With 29 laps remaining, Hamlin caught Elliott and made the pass for the lead but couldn’t completely shake the No. 9 Chevy. Elliott held onto Hamlin’s bumper with 15 laps remaining—and Blaney just two car-lengths behind. Reddick challenged Blaney with eight to go, but couldn’t complete the slide job and settled for fourth.
“I knew with three runs to go, my crew chief (Chris Gabehart) was giving me lap times and saying that the 9 (Elliott) had good stuff going when we had that big lead," Hamlin said. "Really, I think our strong suit was being able to run a good lap time no matter where we were on the track. He was able to short pit us there. I wasn’t able to come to pit road, I kind of missed pit road there and he was able to get us on that cycle. I just knew if I ran the pace I knew I needed to save the tires that I was going to be good in the long run.”
Coming to the final five circuits, Elliott tagged the wall and Hamlin extended his advantage to the checkers. The race marked crew chief Gabehart's return after serving a four-race suspension for ballast falling out of the No. 11 Toyota on the warm-up laps for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 24.
“We’re obviously in great position," Hamlin said. "We gained seven bonus points for the Playoffs. The driver gave away one at Bristol or else we would have four wins right now. I’ll take every win I can, let’s just keep piling them up.”
Despite finishing 26th, Kevin Harvick retained the points lead by eight over Elliott.