Late cautions doom Denny Hamlin in Sprint Cup title finale

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Once again, Denny Hamlin experienced championship heartbreak at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Four years after he lost the Sprint Cup title in the season finale to Jimmie Johnson, Hamlin battled hard but came up short with a seventh-place finish in today’s championship-deciding Ford Ecoboost 400.

For a while, it appeared that the Virginia native would be the one hoisting the Cup in the end. He was at the front of the field several times, and assumed the championship lead with 20 laps to go when he stayed on the track during a caution.

But two more yellows in the final 15 laps allowed Hamlin’s title rivals to catch up. With seven to go, Kevin Harvick took advantage of the four fresh tires that he got in the 20-to-go caution to take the race/title lead from Hamlin, and eventual runner-up Ryan Newman passed him for second before the final yellow came out with six laps left.

That set up the last restart with three to go, but Hamlin was unable to mount a challenge Harvick and Newman before fading out of the Top 5.

Afterwards, Hamlin was comforted by his crew, as well as basketball icon Michael Jordan, whose sponsors Hamlin through his Jordan Brand (credit to USA Today’s Jeff Gluck for the clip):

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Michael Jordan comforts buddy Denny Hamlin. #NASCAR

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His crew chief, Darian Grubb, took the blame after the call to leave Hamlin out did not work:

When he faced the press, Hamlin said the “last breaks” just didn’t go in his favor.

“I thought our car really came into its own as soon as it went dark, and I thought we had the best car, and we just struggled with restart speed,” he explained. “Kind of the theme of the year, just struggling with – we don’t have the all-out speed that those guys have, and with that, it put me in some tough spots on restarts.

“I gave up a position to Harvick there with 20-some laps to go, and Darian tried to make a call to make that back up and leave us out there on tires, and obviously we were sitting ducks as long as cautions kept coming. We were able to jump out and get the lead, you know, had a decent lead, and just the cautions didn’t go our way.”

Carrying a much looser demeanor than he did going into his last duel with Johnson for the 2010 title, Hamlin quickly moved into the Top 5 from eighth on the grid.

From there, he was able to stay in that bracket for the rest of the race with the help of a strong car and great pit work from his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing crew.

Hamlin had toiled with a relative lack of power compared to his Chase rivals, but tonight, it was clear that there were a few more ponies in his Toyota engine.

With that and his crew’s efforts in mind, Hamlin said that he was proud of what they were able to bring to Homestead and that he wouldn’t have done anything differently.

“We brought a car that was capable of winning,” he said. “I just don’t know how to express it enough. Sometimes, breaks go your way, sometimes they don’t…There’s not much else we could have done with the strategy that we played with the cautions that came out.

“I think we overachieved greatly by being here, and we haven’t had the speed to compete for race wins all year, and we did today, on the race that really mattered. Just came up short.”

Perhaps filled with peace of mind that he and the 11 camp gave it everything they had, Hamlin posted the following statements on his Twitter page this evening:

Travis Pastrana leads flag-to-flag in Nitro Rallycross as the series returns to America

Pastrana Nitro Rallycross
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Travis Pastrana waited until the final trip around ERX Motor Park to take his Joker Lap – a longer way around the course that all drivers must do at least once in a race – and came out cleanly to win his first Nitro Rallycross race of 2022. With this win, Pastrana is the third driver to visit Victory Lane in the first three rounds of the 2022-23 season.

“This is the closest to a motocross track,” Pastrana told Katie Osborne on Peacock. “Thank you so much for a beautiful facility. It’s been a rough start to the season and I’m so thankful to be back out here. We had a good run in the side-by-side and now for this. This is much needed.”

Another thing needed was the sense of improvement. And Pastrana earned that affirmation each time he completed a lap around the course.

“I get my lap times read out and they said ‘fastest time of the week,’ ‘fastest time of the week’ (each time around) ” Pastrana said. “This is really special. We’re a long way behind in the championship, but welcome to America.”

In a pre-race press conference, Pastrana said that as Nitro Rallycross heads back to America, it was time for an American to win and he made good on his promise. Pastrana took the early lead over Robin Larsson and let the back of his Subaru hang out, taking risks he might not otherwise take if not for his need to win.

How to Watch Nitro Rallycross

Larsson’s second-place finish completed a perfect sweep of the podium in three rounds. In fact, he has not yet finished worse than second after winning the opening round at Lydden Hill in the United Kingdom and finishing second at Strangnas in Sweeden.

Fraser McConnel rounded out the podium for his best result of the season. He finished fourth in each of the first two rounds.

Last year, Pastrana finished second in this race to Scott Speed before narrowly edging his teammate for the championship.

Andreas Bakkerud crashed in prelims, but rebounded to finish just off the block in fourth. Bakkerud won the second round ahead of his teammate Larsson.

Oliver Bennett completed the top five.

Minneapolis is the first of three rounds scheduled in the United States. Next on the schedule is Glen Helen, Calif. on Octo 30 and then Phoenix at Wild Horse Pass on November 12th. Nitro Rallycross will then head to Saudi Arabia in December to continue their 2022-23 season.