Hamlin No. 1 for NASCAR playoffs
RICHMOND, Va. – Denny Hamlin went from last to first to the top seed in NASCAR’s race for the Sprint Cup championship.
Hamlin snapped a monthlong slump Saturday night with another win at Richmond International Raceway, his home track, by holding off Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch in a dominating victory.
It was Hamlin’s series-best sixth win of the season and pushed him past four-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson for the top seed in the Chase.
The points were reset after Saturday night’s race, and Hamlin goes to the Chase opener next week at New Hampshire with a 10-point lead over Johnson.
“I hope you guys are ready for a good 10 weeks,” he radioed his crew.
It’s the first time in Hamlin’s career he’s been the points leader.
Regular-season points leader Kevin Harvick took the third seed, 30 points behind Hamlin.
Busch, also 30 behind Hamlin, gave Toyota and JGR a 1-2 finish.
Kurt Busch, winner of the inaugural 2004 Chase, is the fifth seed, followed by Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle, who secured his spot in the 12-driver field just 30 laps into Saturday night when start-and-park driver Jason Leffler called it a night.
Jeff Gordon will be seeded eighth, the first of five drivers winless this season who will start the Chase 60 points behind Hamlin.
Clint Bowyer was the only real driver on the “bubble” at the start of Saturday night, but had a stout car, led 33 laps and finished sixth to grab the final Chase spot.
“As happy as I am to make the Chase, I was frustrated with the finish,” Bowyer said. “We were a second-place car and made an attempt to pass Denny a couple of times and slipped clear to sixth.”
As the final race of the “regular season,” Richmond has packed a punch since the Chase began in 2004 as a handful of drivers typically vied for one or two spots in the championship field.