Home / Cup Series / Thinkin’ Out Loud – Denny Hamlin Takes Advantage of Late Race Caution to Steal Win at Chicago
A pack of NASCAR Sprint Cup racecars during the 2015 myAFibRisk.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway
(Photo: CIA Stock Photo, Inc. ©2015)­­

Thinkin’ Out Loud – Denny Hamlin Takes Advantage of Late Race Caution to Steal Win at Chicago

Who’s in the headline – Dave Rogers made a call to stay out on a late race caution and Denny Hamlin restarted the race in third with five laps to go. He went three wide on the bottom of the track, cleared Jeff Gordon in turns one and two, passed Kurt Busch as they spilled onto the back straight and went on to win the race, leading only nine laps all day.

2015 Chicago CUP Denny Hamlin woohoo vertical CIA
Denny Hamlin, victorious (Photo: CIA Stock Photo, Inc. ©2015)

What happenedKevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson got together on a restart on lap 134. The resultant tire rub for Harvick resulted in a spin that seriously damaged the rear of his car and resulted in him spending more than 50 laps in the garage. The 42nd place finish for Harvick puts him 22 points below the cutoff line for round two of the Chase and probably in position of needing to win to advance. Kyle Busch led the most laps in the event but didn’t have the car to contend at the end. His brother Kurt was poised to take the win when the caution flag flew with nine laps to go but stayed out on old tires and came home in third place. Joe Gibbs Racing continued their strong effort at this point in the season with all four cars in the top 9, although they weren’t as dominant as they had been as a team.

Why you should care – Harvick has shown to be the class of the field for much of the season and was still finishing near the front when Gibbs and Team Penske put on their late season run. Unfortunately for Harvick, this Chase format could see him going home after round one if he can’t win a race and none of the other Chase contenders above the cut line have the same kind of difficulty he did.

This incident could also be a huge problem for Johnson because Harvick wears his emotions on his sleeve, as could be witnessed in the motor coach lot after the race. If Harvick drops out after round one, he could certainly hold it against Johnson and bring some retaliation later in the Chase. Everyone else in the Chase finished in the top 19 so the points are tight among the rest of the field.

What your friends are talking about – For the 10,000th time in the last 10 years, NASCAR threw a completely ridiculous caution with 10 laps to go to bunch the field back up. As a result, a car that was not in contention for the win took the victory and drivers who were at the front of the pack for much of the last 100 laps finished third, ninth and fourteenth. The sport had begun to make legitimate caution calls late in the summer and let several races run to the finish when people had issues late in the event. Then at Darlington they threw an unwarranted caution when Jeb Burton spun off of the track. Then at Richmond, with 24 laps left in the event, another mysterious debris caution flew and led to the restart discussion late in the race. You can teach an old dog new tricks but you can’t change a leopard’s spots.

Restarts are still the talk of the sport. It is time to put this to bed. There are three options to eliminate all of this wasted hot air. They can go back to the rule where the leader has to get to the line first. They can have the starter restart the race every time and take it out of the drivers hands, or they can go to Delaware restarts, where the leader is in the first row alone and second and third are the first cars side-by-side. Whatever the sanctioning body chooses to do is fine, but they cannot continue with this farce after this season and will hopefully change it sooner.

The emotions of the Chase are already amped up. As mentioned before, Harvick and Johnson made contact on the track and Harvick ended up with a terrible finish. Johnson went to Harvick’s motor home after the race to try and talk to him and Harvick immediately gave Johnson a mild punch in the chest and wanted to mix it up. The six-time champ walked away against Harvick’s protestations. We saw it last year and it appears like it will be the same this year. The urgency of the Chase is going to have emotions right below the surface and that could end up resulting in major confrontations before the end of the Chase.

NASCAR likes to tout that winning is the most important thing with this Chase format. However, the bonus points that people earn for winning only apply in the first round of the Chase. As a result, the only round where the people who have run well all season really don’t need bonus points is the one round where they receive them. If NASCAR really wants to make this Chase about winning, then let the bonus points carry through every round and let the winners during the Chase have the bonus points and keep them the rest of the remaining races.

The review of Austin Dillon‘s impact with the catch fence at Daytona has resulted in a decision by the speedway to repair the fence and make no changes to the design or implementation. The investigation confirmed that the fence functioned as it was designed and there is no need to change it. The movement of the seats back from the track and the installation of an additional fence, both part of the Daytona Rising project, will have the fans further back from the track and provide additional safety.

2015 Chicago CUP Kurt Busch JAmie McMurray racing CIA
Kurt Busch cruising early at Chicagoland (Photo: CIA Stock Photo, Inc. ©2015)

Who is mad – Kurt Busch was there, counting down the laps and looking forward to being locked into the second round of the Chase. Then the caution flew because Matt DiBenedetto brushed the wall in turns one and two. It went in the air to look for possible debris. Unfortunately for Busch that put his crew chief Tony Gibson in the position to have to make a call. He left Busch on the track with old tires and on the restart he ended up being pushed a little high while Hamlin went low and ended up in third. While it was a good point day he has to be thinking what could have been.

Jeff Gordon was running in the second spot and looked all but locked into that spot had the caution flag not flown. When he, like Busch, stayed out on old tires he ended up in the middle when Hamlin made the move to the lead on the apron. Once he slipped into that slot he quickly dropped through the field and had to battle to end up in the 14th spot.

Kyle Busch led the most laps at Chicago but at the end of the race he didn’t quite have the car to contend. He’d resigned himself to a good finish, running third behind his brother and Gordon when the caution flag flew. Unlike the others he came for tires during the final caution but got shuffled during the restart because his line didn’t move at the drop of the green and he ended up in the ninth spot. A good point day but very frustrating after leading and contending all day.

Who is happy – Unlike Hamlin and Busch, who had fast cars all day, Matt Kenseth was struggling to run near the front of the pack. He spent most of the race in the mid to low teens but took advantage of the scramble on the final restart and managed to come home with a fifth place finish. As a result, Kenseth now leads the point standings after Chicago.

Ryan Newman spent nearly the entire race in the back half of the top 10. He never pushed to the front and seldom fell too far back. However, near the end of the race he did slip and was in the middle teens for the final restart. Like Kenseth, Newman was in the right place at the right time and jumped up to fourth place in the final running order.

Carl Edwards had a speeding penalty, then he ran out of gas coming to pit road, and finally was sitting in seventh place as the laps were winding down. The caution flag flew, Edwards put on four tires while the people who restarted in front of him had four old tires or only two new ones. As a result, Edwards was able to make the necessary moves to work his way to the second spot when the laps ran out. Edwards car was strong during the race, but not that strong. The finish was certainly a blessing.

When the checkered flag flew:

Denny Hamlin scored the 26th victory of his career in his 353rd start.

The win is Hamlin’s second of the season.

This is Hamlin’s first career triumph at Chicagoland Speedway.

Hamlin is now tied with Fred Lorenzen for 27th on the all-time win list.

Carl Edwards finished runner-up in Chicago for the second time in his career.

This is Edwards third top 2 of 2015.

Edwards has 21 career second place finishes which ties him with Kurt Busch and Ernie Irvan for 37th on the all-time list.

Kurt Busch rounded out the podium at Chicago for his first career top 3 run at the speedway.

Busch’s third place run was his fifth top 3 of the season.

The third at Chicago was Busch’s 76th top 3 run of his career which puts him 30th on the all-time list.

Brett Moffitt finished 31st and won the Rookie of the Race.

Race one of the Chase is in the books and Denny Hamlin is locked into round two by virtue of his victory at Chicagoland. While Hamlin is locked into the next round he is not the point leader. The top 16 looks like this after the first race:

  1. Matt Kenseth
  2. Denny Hamlin
  3. Carl Edwards
  4. Kyle Busch
  5. Kurt Busch
  6. Joey Logano
  7. Jimmie Johnson
  8. Ryan Newman
  9. Brad Keselowski
  10. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  11. Martin Truex Jr.
  12. Jeff Gordon
  13. Jamie McMurray
  14. Paul Menard
  15. Clint Bowyer
  16. Kevin Harvick

Takin’ it to the Bank:

Cup winners this year have pocketed $9,164,602 in 27 races, while the last place finisher has taken home $2,139,647.

In the Xfinity series it has been $1,851,634 for the winners and $341,455 for last place in 26 races.

After 15 Truck races the winner has $770,919 in his coffers and the last loser has banked $148,832.

What is in the cooler

For those people who thought a Chase race with the same 2015 package on a mile and a half track was going to be something different that we’d seen all year, you were obviously disappointed. For the rest of us that expected an aero dependent parade that saw minimal passing after five laps beyond a restart we saw exactly that. We were also treated to the third race in a row with a bogus caution at the end of the event. It would have had three cold beers but the attempt to manipulate the finish into some kind of ‘game seven moment’ ended up dropping another beer from the rating. So it is two lukewarm Old Style Lights after that effort in the Windy City, or at least within sight of Chicago.

Where do you point your DVR for next week

Race number two of the Chase will take place on the flat mile oval of New Hampshire Motor Speedway. To see the action, tune to NBC Sports Network at 2:00 PM Eastern on Sunday September 27th. To hear the audio of the event you can also turn into your local PRN affiliate or SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90. The race will also be live streamed on NBC Sports Live Extra.

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About Mike Neff

Mike Neff
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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33 comments

  1. Avatar

    Did anyone really expect this race to run to its conclusion without a late race debris caution? I called it earlier in the week and Nascar didn’t disappoint. It would be pretty disappointing if all the hype coming into the race was fizzled out by a follow the leader parade to end the race, wouldn’t it? But I guess Nascar thinks we are all that stupid. I will be watching the last 20 or so laps of each race and what are sure to be at least one fight after each race in the garage area. That will be about the extent of my Chase viewing this year. My driver is not in the Chase so I have no vested interest in the outcome and will not waste my Sunday afternoons watching this garbage.

  2. Avatar

    Johnson should have hit Logano to get back in line. It was a 50/50 deal who was going to get damaged, but I see Johnson still has the golden horseshoe. Can’t wait for Jeff ‘like end of career Waltrip’ to retire.

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      Sorry, I am a fan of Logano and might seem like I am being bias..but here it goes. Logano WAS the reason for him going down on the apron, one tap which JJ correct very quickly…no harm no foul..happens all the time.The race progressed Logano is no where near them and the two connect like Junebugs. I would question the spotters first. Everything that happens on the track has a cause and effect. But last I checked JJ was in control of his car and turned his wheel right as Harvick was in control of his and blocked. Logano had nothing to do with that dance.

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        a day late – no one may see this – but i have to agree KB – as a Harvick fan, he was in control of his destiny the whole time, whether that be moving up on the track, or taking the chance to pit would have been my call. I mean – there was one race this season where they had a bad pit stop and a speeding penalty and still finished second. I think it was just stupid for them to have stayed out. I don’t think it was Joey’s fault – and i think that JJ and KH both could have given more.

  3. Avatar

    Miike, I completely agree with your comments about winning and bonus points in the Chase. The bonus points should continue for winning during the Chase as well!

  4. Avatar

    it’s hard to keep up with all the comments made by those whom will never watch Nascar again or pay another dime to watch them. Year after year, they’re still right here. LOL

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      I have a feeling with this being Gordon’s last year a lot of those commenters will truly be gone after this season. And a lot of fans who don’t comment here as well.

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      Phil, I think that you will see that come next year when Gordon is done. 9 races & counting for me.

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        You and Carl are both right, Gina. I don’t think very many of those in higher places, or the fans who swallow the NASCAR line, realize how many people are just hanging on until men like Gordon, Stewart and Junior leave. Numbers probably got a bump from the “Gordon’s Last Ride” bit this year, so people in high places think everything’s groovy, according to the “metrics.” This time next year will start to tell the tale.

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          Tim S, I think you are right. I know that in the past many people chose a new driver to follow but I’m not sure that will happen considering how many other things have occurred that have caused fans to be disillusioned by NASCAR.

          I’m sure some people will indeed decide to follow another driver and that’s great for them. For me, the sport itself has lost its appeal and as you said, I have been holding on only because Gordon was still racing.

          It will be interesting to see what excuse NASCAR will come up with to explain it all away. It couldn’t, of course, be anything that they are doing.

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            I’m still wondering what Nascar is going to do to replace all the popular drivers that are getting up there in age. Guys like Stewart, Jr, Johnson, Harvick, Edwards, Kenseth are not young anymore.

            They are comfortably wealthy so they don’t need the money. So, the love of the sport would be the only reason for staying. But you have to wonder how long they will put up with this new WWE Nascar. (My guess is Gordon is retiring because he’s sick of this circus, although he will never say it publicly).

            You will never convince me that guys like Burton, Elliot, and the Dillon brothers are going to bring in a new crop of fans. And as posters mentioned above, disgruntled longtime fans are probably not likely to look for a new driver once their favorite retires. It will be a good indicator as to whether the younger Nascar fan are more casual fans or if they actually are taking a strong interest in it.

  5. Avatar

    So, drivers that were gifted with giving back laps they lost managed to get to the front of the field. Oh gee. How exciting. And the ‘regular season’ winner doesn’t even get any advantage…even home field. Who came up with this abortion again?

  6. Avatar

    It looked like Chicagoland was going to put on a decent race, but NASCAR couldn’t be content with that so they had to throw that last “debris” caution for no reason to attempt to wreck the field and have an exciting finish.

    I’ll go with kb and Bill B and echo the “I hate the chase” or “playoffs” as NBC insists on calling them. Do they think that by renaming it the fans will hate it less?

    9 races left, Bill B and like you, I will not care a bit after this year. I plan to laugh my butt off at whatever gimmick NASCAR puts together to “entertain” the fans next year.

    • Avatar

      gina – i was always abg fan…but hope jeff can pull off a miracle and win the championship. watching him fall to 14th on that final restart just hurt.

      • Avatar

        Janice, yeah, I think its going to take exactly that, a miracle for it to happen, but I sure would like to see it happen.

  7. Avatar

    Did Stepford writer Mike Neff just admit that NASCAR threw a fake caution! No! Better get him back to Daytona to repair that programming glitch before he tells someone that every race is duller than the last.

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      The “debris” caution is the worst kept secret in sports IMHO. But people still watch, just like they do WWE, or continue to vote for politicians they know are crooked, or buy cars from companies that they know hide potentially fatal defects. So why shouldn’t Nascar just keep doing it?

  8. Avatar

    Once again a car that shouldn’t have been in the race caused a “debris” caution at the end and cost a driver a win. It’s amazing how they throw a caution for paint chips and then can’t find any. Mr. H must have had a cow when the caution flew. I wouldn’t want to be Brian when Hendrick phones Monday morning.

    The interviews after the race were Kurt, Harvick and Johnson. It must pain the networks to interview non-Hendrick drivers.

    Harvick put on a show with Johnson after the race but he made sure he had Delana there. She’d changed from her driver’s suit.

    • Avatar

      Don… My guess is that Rick Hendrick was probably hoping for a caution with Jeff Gordon running second to Kurt Busch there near the end of the race. Even with a SHR car in the lead, you gotta feel like Rick would much rather have Jeff in victory lane than Kurt.

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        I agree. For instance I didn’t watch the race and caught a lap or two and the highlight reels. So I consider myself not the fan I used to be, I would schedule my time around it and that was that. No more.

  9. Avatar

    what little of this farce i watched, just made me decide not to spend the time or money going to dega in a few weeks.

    why bother! can watch the puppet show on tv and save the time and expense.

    na$car you’ve definitely stuck a fork in it and are done!

    • Avatar

      Janice, I hear you. We went to Darlington. I like supporting the track but the race was not impressive. I was sorry I spent the $ and wasted my holiday weekend traveling.

  10. Avatar

    KB – i couldn’t agree more about Harv (again, we all know i’m a fan) – it was a bone headed move to stay out. We all know what’s on the line. He had a fast car, they’ve rebounded EVERY OTHER RACE when circumstances like this came up. So i agree that it’s odd that Childers and he thought it’d be good to stay out and as much as it sucks to agree – they did bring it on themselves

    BTW – in general – say what we will about JJ – but he showed some respect in not hauling off and hitting Harvick square in the jaw, i don’t know if i’d have had that amount of restraint. Justsayin….

    In general – i’m sick of people going 2 laps down, not having to work to get it back, and then freaking winning the race. What’s the point in lapping people? If we’re going to even the playing field by having a lucky dog and a wave around rule – then – what’s the point? I remember thinking that the wave around would at least hopefully get away from another imminent caution – but clearly – since no one can make a pass after the first 4 laps, i was wrong. Either way, nothing against Denny and Carl – but 2 laps down, and playing strategy on wave arounds – to come back and win – is just annoying to see sometimes.

    On to NH – hopefully it’s a good race – hopefully the 4 rebounds…

  11. Avatar

    With 15 laps to go and Jeff Gordon running second I told my wife that a caution for debris was imminent. Sure enough, NASCAR gave her another reason to think I’m the smartest guy on the planet. Still, I’m pretty sure most Nascar fans saw it coming. Did they even show the debris? I honestly don’t remember.

    Kevin Harvick had good reason to pissed at JJ but he still behaved like the asinine jerk he’s always been. I’m not complaining though.. it’s always intertaining when there’s slap-fighting in the Hendrick playpen.

    • Avatar

      nope they didn’t show that debris caution. they showed some car that had hit the wall during the race, but nothing had fallen off it.

      i watched very little of the race, saw the first few laps and when i saw ky bush leading, knew where that was headed. saw the johnson/harvick dust up on the track, then saw the last 10 laps. what a farce.

      i still say toyota must have paid a lot of money this year to the france payola fund.

  12. Avatar

    Once again a questionable late race caution arbitrarily takes good finishes away from some teams and gives them to others. It wasn’t like tires or no tires was the answer either. Hamlin and Gordon both stay out on old tires, one wins the other has problems. It wasn’t like tires would have been the answer, Kyle Busch was running 3rd got tires and ended up 9th.
    Once again a driver gifted a lap back via the magic of the wave around ends up winning the race. What a crock.
    I am so glad this is my last year of caring.

    As for Gordon jumping the restart, NASCAR could have easily decided that he did so I thought it wasn’t very smart at this stage of the chase and that point of the race. He basically put himself in a position where he was at NASCAR’s mercy to decide whether he’d be black flagged. I think the answer is the Delaware restarts you mentioned above. I’d like this because it would remove all restart controversy and give the leader a clear advantage on the restart. Something that has bothered me since the start of the double file restart rule.

    I’ll echo KB with a “God I hate the chase”.

  13. Avatar

    All good points. Weird race. I am getting a little sick and tired of this crap NASCAR is pulling. The late race caution robbed Kurt of a win, (and I am no fan) and again this week a lucky dog driver, driving for Joe Gibb/Toyota wins. Is that really indicative of the front runners all race. JG has his years of prayers answered by these “miracles” of late. These guys at Toyota have been the luckiest bastards this year, I have never seen so many “stolen” wins by one team. I dunno….

    Yeah, Jimmie hit Kevin, Kevin hit Jimmie, whatever..the point is Harvick should have come to pit road immediately seeing his car was off, but he stayed out. He wrecked and could have taken others with him. I doubt the time on pit road to fix to the tire would have been any worse than a next to DNF finish. Kinda brought the predicatment on himself. Imo.

    Seeing Jeff have strong car all day and slip to 14th didn’t make any sense, heck what I saw of today didn’t make much sense. God I hate “The Chase”.

    • Avatar

      Watch it again. Harvick had no chance to come to pit road because the contact with Johnson happened in turn one and he spun out in turn two on the same lap.

      • Avatar

        No, Harvick spun a few laps after the contact. But, the tire smoke was getting less and less as he went. The announcers even commented that it could mean the fender has moved out or the tire is gone. Either way, it is no longer rubbing. The problem is one is fine and one puts you into the fence. Harvick and crew gambled and lost.

        • Avatar

          Yeah I thought it was a couple of laps too Paul.
          I can’t stand Harvick, he’s a punk, but he had a right to be upset. Johnson had a choice, he could lose a bunch of positions and fall in line or try to bully his way back onto the track. He chose the latter. Personally I thought it was early enough in the race where Johnson should have taken the more conservative route. This could have been in his own best interest to fall back a few positions and avoid the contact as it could have just as easily been him with the tire going down after they got together.

          • Avatar

            Yes, but Johnson NEVER gives anyone a break. He figures he is 6 time and that makes him untouchable and everyone should yield to him. I’m not a fan of Harvick’s either but IMO he was right to be upset.

            I guess that lucky horseshoe of the 48’s is still firmly in place since he got away scot free again.

        • Avatar

          I apologize, you are right. The TV cut to the in-car camera at that time and I lost track of the lap that went by.