Changing track conditions at Kansas pushed Denny Hamlin to the lead for his first victory at Kansas Speedway.
Article first published as Hamlin Enjoys the Sunshine at Kansas on Technorati.[/box]
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Denny Hamlin drove to victory in Sunday’s STP 400 holding off Martin Truex Jr. the final 30 laps. The win is Hamlin’s second of the season, his first at the 1.5-mile Kansas track, and the 19th of his career.
Jimmie Johnson took third, followed closely by Roush Fenway Racing drivers Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle. Truex moved into second place in the Sprint Cup Series standings behind Biffle, who leads by 15 points.
A late cycle of green-flag pit stops put all the contenders on the same sequence. Then, for the first time all day, the sun broke through, changing the track dynamics and the whole complexion of the race.
Before the sun came out, Truex had dominated the race, leading 173 laps. The shifting track conditions altered the handling on Truex’s Toyota to “wrecking loose.” Hamlin got past Truex for the lead on Lap 237 and began to drive away with Jimmie Johnson pursuing from the third position.
To Hamlin, the sunlight was a welcome game-changer.
“We just needed some kind of change — weather or adjustments or something to get where he was at — and we kind of got both of them. In overcast conditions, the cars run a little bit tighter, the grip level’s higher in the race car, and it’s more of a track-position type race. When the sun’s out, the drivers, in my opinion, are more prominent,” Hamlin said.
“You move around, find the grip, do things in the car to make up for what you don’t have. The slicker the conditions are, the better it tends to be for our race team. Luckily, we had that run in sunshine.”
When clouds returned to cover the track again, Truex found handling and began to close on Hamlin. Truex tried racing beneath Hamlin in Turn 3 twice in the final three laps but couldn’t get the job done.
“Desperation,” Truex exclaimed. “I was a little bit faster than Denny at the end, but he was running against the wall right where I needed to be, and I was just trying to gain a little bit of ground.
“It was desperation — last-ditch effort — just trying something. There was no chance to make it work.”
In spite of the varying track conditions, Truex pointed to a bad set of tires for the final run as root cause.
“I’m just not really sure what to think of that last set of tires,” Truex said. “The car had been really good all day, we put the last set on, and I was just wrecking loose for the first 20 laps of that last run.
“Denny was able to get by me, and once he did, the race was over. The car got better longer in the run, and I was able to get back to him, but I’d get three or four car-lengths from him and pick up the aero push …
“I guess if we can be this disappointed with second, it kind of shows how far we’ve come as a race team.”
Richmond 3/4 Mile Speedway
Saturday, April 28
7:00 p.m. EST on Fox