And then there was four.
The Championship 4 is set for next week’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway and Denny Hamlin raced his way into the title picture Sunday at ISM Raceway.
Hamlin found himself 20 points below the cutline coming into the final race of the Round of 8 and in jeopardy of missing a shot to run for the crown. In what was essentially a must win situation, Hamlin delivered in the Bluegreen Vacations 500.
It came down to a final restart and a bold call by crew chief Chris Gabehart to take only two tires while those behind Hamlin had four. But Hamlin turned in the restart of his life by getting around Ryan Blaney after the green flag reappeared with three laps to go and drove away to the checkered flag.
The finish was the most exciting sequence of Sunday’s race that featured long green flag runs and not a lot of side-by-side action after four and five wide restarts settled down.
However, Hamlin made it worked in his season-defining pass of Blaney on the final restart. It was good enough to keep his championship hopes very much alive.
- The week-long controversy surrounding drivers’ intentionally spinning to bring out caution came to a head when NASCAR punished Bubba Wallace to the tune of $50,000 and 50 points. But it wasn’t because the sanctioning body felt justified in determining Wallace’s spin was purposeful last week in Texas but rather by the Richard Petty Motorsports driver basically admitting guilt on video to NBC sports. Scott Miller, NASCAR competition vice president, said action was taken following "a complete admission of guilt" by Wallace, a penalty similar in nature to a similar situation with Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2004. Earnhardt Jr. explained on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s "The Morning Drive" NASCAR told him following the incident he would be penalized for admitting it rather than having to make a judgment call and prove intent. It’s doubtful the practice of spinning to bring out caution will end – something that’s been going on for decades – but what will most likely change is drivers speaking openly about those actions. There is a fear the scenario caused drivers to think twice about speaking to the media about any subject and the erosion of open dialogue becomes an unintended consequence of the Wallace punishment.
- Justin Allgaier finally did what has eluded him all season when he went to Victory Lane in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race. The JR Motorsports driver hadn’t won since Indianapolis in 2018 although he found himself in second place six times between wins. Allgaier is this year’s NXS "me" in the battle with the "Big 3" as Christopher Bell, Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick – who have combined to win 20 of the season’s 32 races – all advanced to next week’s Homestead title race.
- The Gander Outdoors Truck Series Championship 4 was decided Friday night in the Lucas Oil 150, a race that saw eventual winner Stewart Friesen penalized for jumping the start of the race. Undaunted, Friesen charged back to take the victory and secure a spot in next week’s title race at Homestead while veteran Matt Crafton snuck by the cutline to knock out Daytona winner Austin Hill. Next week’s race will mark the first time Toyota does not have an entry in the Championship 4 season finale.
- The end of an era took place on Saturday with the final K&N Pro Series West race of the season. Derek Kraus will go into the record book as the last champion of the series under K&N sponsorship, which evolves under the ARCA Menards umbrella next season. It’s an ambitious endeavor and one that will hopefully strengthen the next tier of regional/national racing behind the Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series schedules. It will be interesting to see how a rules package morphing the former ARCA cars together with the current K&N machines will work and more importantly attract owners and entries, both of which were down significantly in 2019 as plans for the new venture became clearer.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.