Denny Hamlin shuffled to back of field early due to flat tire, falls one lap down (UPDATED)

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Pole sitter Denny Hamlin led the first 24 laps of today’s Eliminator Round finale in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup at Phoenix International Raceway, but is now one lap down after being sent to the back of the field due to a flat tire.

Hamlin had been running in the Top 5 leading up to a debris caution at Lap 31. But after he went in with the leaders for stops, Hamlin reported that he may have suffered a broken shock on his right-rear corner.

As it turned out, it was actually a flat right-rear tire. He was forced to come in a second time to replace it; ESPN reported that the valve stem of the tire was somehow knocked in, leading to the failure.

Hamlin’s girlfriend, Jordan Fish, tweeted a pic:

Meanwhile, Hamlin was subsequently shuffled back to 37th for the restart at Lap 36. He had climbed back into the Top 30 by Lap 50, but couldn’t advance further in traffic. On Lap 76, race leader Kevin Harvick passed him in Turn 3 to put him one lap off the pace.

With the bonus point he got from leading a lap, Hamlin now needs to finish 12th or better today to advance to the Sprint Cup Championship Race next weekend at Homestead.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.