Denny Hamlin moved toward the top seed in the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship race by using a calculated late pass to win for the first time at Bristol (Va.) Motor Speedway.
Hamlin flirted with Carl Edwards for the lead late in the race and set up the move with 39 laps remaining Saturday. Hamlin used a slide move to get past Edwards, then held on as Edwards tried to use a cross-over move to get back in front.
It didn’t work for Edwards, and Hamlin drove away for his third win of the season.
“My biggest win – this is such a great feeling,” said Hamlin, who praised the setup crew chief Darian Grubb used for his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
“It just hauled the mail. This is just a big win, I don’t know how else to explain it.”
Two races remain before the field is reset for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, and seeding is done by “regular-season” wins. With three victories, Hamlin is tied with defending champion Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski for most in the series.
The four would be tied for the top seed right now, but all want at least one more win to break the logjam.
“We’re not done winning yet. We’ve still got a few more to go,” Hamlin said.
Johnson finished second and clinched a berth in the Chase, as did Vancouver, Wash., native Greg Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Jeff Gordon was third — giving Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets second and third — followed by Brian Vickers in a Toyota and Marcos Ambrose in a Ford.
Kyle Busch was a quiet sixth, Clint Bowyer was seventh and Joey Logano, winner of the Nationwide Series race Friday, was eighth. Enumclaw’s Kasey Kahne and Paul Menard rounded out the top 10. Edwards ran out of gas late and finished 22nd.
Biffle, who finished 19th, held onto his lead in the driver points race. He is 11 points ahead of Johnson.
Kahne remained 11th in the points standings and, with two wins this season, is in position for the first of the two wild cards into the Chase.
POWER ON POLE
Will Power won the IndyCar pole in Sonoma, Calif., for the third straight year, putting the series points leader in prime position to go for his third consecutive victory at the track today.
Power’s Penske Racing teammate, Ryan Briscoe, was second, and Sebastien Bourdais was third. Helio Castroneves, who completed Penske’s podium sweep last year in Sonoma alongside Power and Briscoe, will start fourth.
Only 28 points separate the top four drivers in the points standings with only three races to go in the IndyCar season. Ryan Hunter-Reay, who trails Power by just five points, will start seventh today.