With 31 laps to go, Denny Hamlin took the lead from Martin Truex Jr. and led the rest of the way on his way to winning the STP 400 at Kansas Speedway. The win marked the 19th win of his career.
“It felt a lot like Phoenix in the sense of we kind of hung around in the top 5 all day, and at the end we just kind of make our charge, make our run, and there were some things that had to happen the last run really for us to work out, and those things happened,” he says. “We got our car a little bit better and it looked like the 56 (Martin Truex Jr.) struggled a little bit more than what he had previous.
“So I knew with the second to last run when we were able to maintain with them and even gain on them right before we pitted that we were going to have — it was going to be a close battle at the end, and when we came out from that green flag pit stop and we were side by side, I knew that that was pretty much the race for the win. So when he cleared me, I thought it was over, but I just kind of got in a rhythm there, and he continued to fight with his car, and we were able to make the pass.”
The win also marked his second win of the season with crew chief Darian Grubb. Joe Gibbs Racing hired Grubb after he was let go from Stewart-Haas Racing last year after winning the championship with Tony Stewart.
“It’s just big for the momentum for the entire Joe Gibbs organization,” Grubb says. “Everybody is working so hard just trying to improve everything. We’ve had good cars, we got the win at Phoenix and we’ve had consistent good performances but just not the wins that we wanted to get, so going out there and getting that now and working our way up in points, it’s showing that effort that’s going on with the fab shop and the engine shop and those guys doing everything they can do to make everything better. All these details are starting to add up.”
Pole sitter Martin Truex Jr. would finish second after leading 173 laps for his sixth top 10 of the season.
“It’s a little bit frustrating to be honest, but overall a good day for the NAPA team,” he says. “I guess if we can be this disappointed with second it shows how far we’ve come as a race team. Just really proud of everybody at MWR and Toyota for helping us get where we are. The NAPA team was phenomenal today. Just not really sure what to think about that last set of tires. Car had been really good all day, put the last set on and I was wrecking loose for the first 20 laps of that last run, and Denny was able to get by me and once he did the race was over. Car got better longer in the run and I was able to get back to him, but I’d get three, four car lengths from him and pick up the aero push. Frustrating day but good day overall, and it’s definitely a good step for us and in the right direction and we’ll come back next week and try to finish the deal.”
Jimmie Johnson finished third for 10th top 10 at Kansas in 12 starts there. He may his way through the field late in the race before the final green flag pit stop after pitting out of sequence.
“I was just watching from third spot, just hopeful that those guys would get a little aggressive and give me an opportunity,” he says. “I watched the 11 get by the 56, work him for a while, and got his way by, and then 11 seemed to lose a little bit of pace at the end and 56 was right back to him.
“I just wish I was closer to those guys to race for it, but we really ran second to third all day long seemed to be the pace that we had in the car, so to come home third, I’d love to finish better, but it’s not like we had a dominant car with the most laps that didn’t win this week. We kind of finished where we ran all day.”
Matt Kenseth and points leader Greg Biffle would round out the top five. Kevin Harvick finished sixth, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch.
Numerous drivers had engine issues during the day, including Kansas hometown boy Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Kurt Busch.
Greg Biffle continues to lead the points, 15 points over Martin Truex Jr.