Denny Hamlin outlasts Kenseth, Dale Jr. for Homestead win

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After enduring a season from Hell, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin finally found a bit of Heaven in tonight’s Sprint Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Hamlin took the lead from Dale Earnhardt Jr. with 24 laps to go and went on to win the Ford Ecoboost 400 by eight-tenths of a second over teammate Matt Kenseth, who came up 19 points short of ninth-place finisher Jimmie Johnson in the 2013 Sprint Cup championship.

That title was something Hamlin was expecting to contend for at the beginning of the season, but a last-lap crash at Auto Club Speedway in March left him with a compression fracture in his back that forced him out of the next four races before he returned to start his No. 11 JGR Toyota at Talladega in May.

Hamlin then strung together finishes of second and fourth in his first two full races back from the injury, but then hit a very rough patch as he could only muster one Top-10 finish in the next 18 events.

However, the Virginia native closed strong with three Top-10s in the four races before his breakthrough tonight at Homestead. With the triumph, Hamlin has now won at least one race in eight consecutive seasons.

“Man, I wanted to keep that streak alive,” Hamlin told ESPN in Victory Lane. “The whole FedEx team has stuck with us…They said I won a 25-foot Contender boat, so that’s awesome. It’s just a heck of a way to go out.”

As for Kenseth, he raced valiantly on Sunday, pacing a race-high 144 laps and surviving a stack-up with 74 laps to go that almost ruined both his day and Johnson’s.

The 2003 Cup champion fell back several spots after the incident, but fought back to fourth by the final restart with 28 laps to go and then took down a game Dale Earnhardt Jr. for second in the closing moments.

While he was unable to overtake Johnson and win a second Cup crown, Kenseth was still thrilled with his season altogether, which saw him and the No. 20 JGR squad win a series-high seven times.

“It was just an unbelievable year for us,” Kenseth said. “Obviously, we wanted to finish it off and win the championship as good as we ran all year. But I couldn’t be more proud of the whole Dollar General/Home Depot team. They did a spectacular job all season, all day today. I’m super-happy for Denny to get his win here tonight. He really needed that. Denny and Kyle [Busch] are awesome teammates, and I’m looking forward to getting into next season.”

“The day overall was really good for us – really dominant when the sun was out but when it got dark, we were off a little bit and then had the mishap on that restart that kind of got us behind. But, overall, I don’t think you could ask for much more.”

Earnhardt finished third to complete a fine Chase for him that saw him collect five Top-5 and eight Top-10 finishes. With the result, he secured fifth place in the championship standings behind Johnson, Kenseth, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch.

In his final race with Michael Waltrip Racing before moving to Furniture Row Racing in 2014, Martin Truex Jr. capitalized on his strong practice pace to finish fourth ahead of his now-former teammate, Clint Bowyer, in fifth.

UPDATED: INDYCAR Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama under red-flag race stoppage due to rain

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UPDATE: The INDYCAR Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is under a red-flag race stoppage after 19 laps due to rain and puddling on the racing surface at Barber Motorsports Park.

Cleaners and dryers are on the track to try and get some of the water off the racing surface. The low spots on the track, as well as the front stretch, have been particularly troublesome and led to several spinouts and at least two wrecks (Charlie Kimball and outside front pole sitter Will Power).

Power’s day is done after suffering irreparable damage to the left side of his car after hydroplaning on the front straight and running into the inside retaining wall.

ORIGINAL STORY FOLLOWS:

Although rain has been falling for nearly an hour and the Barber Motorsports Park 2.3-mile permanent road course is drenched, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is underway on NBCSN.

The start of the race was moved up from 3:38 p.m. ET to take the green flag at 3:08 p.m. ET.

Josef Newgarden is the defending winner of this race and also will start from the pole for today’s race.

While the race is scheduled for 90 laps, there’s a possibility that if the weather worsens or if lightning appears, it could potentially be shortened to just two hours.

As can be expected, all cars are on rain tires to maximize grip.

Catch the race live on NBCSN.