NASCAR Cup: Kansas Speedway Race Winner, History & Results
Someone needs to remind NASCAR Cup playoff drivers that the playoffs have begun.
For the second time in as many weeks, a non-elimination driver won a NASCAR Cup playoff race as Bubba Wallace edged out team owner Denny Hamlin to win the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway on Sunday.
Wallace, in the same No. 45 Toyota 23XI Racing that Kurt Busch drove to victory last spring at Kansas before being sidelined with a concussion, led 58 laps to earn his second start in career.
“It’s cool to beat the boss,” said Wallace, the only black driver in NASCAR’s top series. “But we were off once we took the lead.”
A week ago, Erik Jones stunned the playoff field in the first round of the playoffs at Darlington by becoming the first non-playoff driver to win the playoff opener, so Wallace’s win will set many of the 16 playoff-eligible drivers in must-win situations on Saturday night at Bristol – the last race of the knockout stages – when four drivers will be eliminated.
Wallace, 29, took the lead from Daniel Suarez with 43 laps to go and didn’t budge as three-time Kansas winner Hamlin continued to shave fractions of a second off the lead but couldn’t pass Wallace, the 18th different winner in 28 Cup races this season, who won by 1 second.
Hamlin, in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, was followed by teammate Christopher Bell in the No. 20 Toyota, who became the only driver to earn a place in the Round of 16 based on points.
Wallace, whose only previous win in 176 career starts came at Talladega in 2021, was hoping to silence some of the critics who questioned his abilities.
“Shut up, for a lot of people,” said Wallace, who joined the team founded by Hamlin and basketball legend Michael Jordan in 2021.
“I am grateful for this opportunity. I took this leap of an idea two years ago from a text by Denny. The pit crew was awesome. We had a loose wheel…just grateful.
Wallace kept Hamlin in his rearview mirror for the final, heartbreaking 52 laps, but was determined to keep the 45 in Victory Lane and in contention for the Owners Points Championship.
“I knew Denny was going to be strong,” said Wallace, who opened the season in No. 23 but slipped to 45 after Busch’s injury, opening No. 23 for Ty Gibbs. “He wasn’t so good at the start of the day, and he comes in and finishes second, and that’s what I want to start doing. If we don’t have our best days, let’s capitalize on that.
Hamlin, whose first half of the race was sabotaged by a pit road penalty when his gas man got in the way of Tyler Reddick, who was trying to get out of pit road, had no no hesitation in trying to overthrow Wallace.
“I almost got wrecked trying to catch up to him,” Hamlin said. “I broke away and almost hit the fence, but I was driving as hard as I could. Nothing will ever be free. If you think I’m gonna let you win, you better get another job.
“It was a good day overall. I’m still frustrated with the first half of the race. I’m really happy for Bubba and Team 45. Bubba really worked hard on his craft, and we gave him some fast cars, and now he’s showing what he’s got.
Wallace, who was 10th last May at Kansas Speedway, became the fourth non-elimination driver to win a postseason race at Kansas since the playoffs were instituted in 2004. Joe Nemechek (2004), Tony Stewart (2006) and Greg Biffle (2007) won the fall races at Kansas.
Sunday’s race, on a 75-degree sunny day, saw several playoff drivers, including Kevin Harvick, Reddick and Kyle Busch, encounter problems on pit road, with tires or in crashes.
Harvick, a three-time winner at Kansas, hit the wall on lap 33 after passing Wallace and suffered too much damage to the right side of his No. 4 Ford to continue, earning him a last-place finish. Harvick, already trailing 16th in the playoff standings after his car caught fire and he finished 33rd last week at Darlington, will have to win next week at Bristol.
Reddick, meanwhile, finished 35th after going off the track on lap 67 when his left rear tire exploded. He bounced off the wall, rendering his #8 Chevy unable to continue.
Kyle Busch, whose No. 18 Toyota team was penalized for a loose tire on pit road, was sent to the back of the pack on lap 119; and after returning to the competitive path, he lost control 18 laps later and slid into the infield grass.
Busch fell from the lead lap on 30th and spent the rest of the race trying to catch up. He finished 26th.
This story was originally published September 11, 2022 7:50 p.m.