Denny Hamlin wins at Kansas as Chase Elliott advances, Brad Keselowski doesn't

KANSAS CITY, Kansas — Denny Hamlin got his fifth win of the season as Brad Keselowski’s late-race misfortune meant Chase Elliott advanced to the third round of the Cup Series playoffs.

Hamlin had control of the race for much of the third stage before a caution flew for Ryan Blaney’s flat tire with 14 laps to go. That precipitated three more restarts and Hamlin held serve on all of them before beating Elliott and teammate Kyle Busch to the finish line.

Elliott looked to be in a win-and-advance scenario after entering Sunday’s race outside the top eight in points. But Brad Keselowski’s car was off throughout the third stage of the race and Keselowski’s struggles brought Elliott back into the playoff picture.

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Those struggles were especially bad on the final two laps of the race. The race’s final caution happened when Daniel Suarez hit the wall after making contact with Keselowski. That damaged Keselowski’s car — maybe enough to slow him down even more — and Keselowski dropped six spots over the last two circuits and even hit the wall in that span for good measure. The six lost spots dropped Keselowski out of the playoffs entirely and put Elliott into the round of eight.

“I pushed as hard as I knew how and didn’t quite do good enough on the last restart and that was it,” Keselowski said. “We clawed as hard as we could and there were times it looked like we were going to be fine and times it didn’t. In the end it didn’t work out.”

Denny Hamlin (11) celebrates after winning a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan., Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Denny Hamlin (11) celebrates after winning a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan., Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

A REALLY quick late-race caution

Keselowski would have advanced to the third round of the playoffs if NASCAR didn’t hit the button for the caution lights faster than a starving man at a prime rib buffet.

Suarez went toward the wall and collected Daniel Hemric as Hamlin and the other leaders of the race approached the white flag. Per NASCAR rules the field is frozen and the race is over if a caution comes out after the leader has started his final lap.

Hamlin had not started his final lap. And it was very close thanks to caution expediency that is inconsistently (to put it nicely) shown from the control tower. Take a look at this video in slow motion. The caution light is on nearly at the same time Suarez hit the wall.

Hamlin was a mere feet from crossing the start/finish line at the time of the caution. Had it flown a half-second later — no exaggeration — the race would have been over and Keselowski would have made the playoffs while Elliott missed out.

“Just excited we get to fight another race,” Elliott said. “Back up against the wall, to come out here and battle for a win, that's what you have to do when you're in the position that we were in.”

“If you ever get to Homestead, you're going to have to fight for a win down there. Proud of the effort. Learned a lot. To be able to come out here and, like I said, in our minds have to win, come and fight for one, to finish second, I think is a step in the right direction for us.”

Logano sneaks in

The speediness of the last caution made Joey Logano sweat things out as well. Logano was looking good to make the third round but got caught in the crash and slid through the grass. After he got his car going again he was just three points ahead of the cutline.

Logano drove his way back to 17th and ended up six points ahead of Elliott in seventh in the standings. He’s fourth thanks to the points reset in the third round.

“We needed every point we could and it looked like we were in a good spot. Next thing you know they are wrecking on the outside and I get hit and I am going through the grass,” Logano said. “I felt comfortable before that but the next thing you know - I am watching it here on the replay for the first time - I didn’t hit anything so I got lucky for sure. I have been lucky a few times. We were able to finish Talladega and I parked the thing and there was a hole in the radiator. It was hard-fought and blue-collar round for sure. We just have to smooth it out a little bit. We need to not have as much carnage out there and finish some of these things. On to the next round. We get to reset, thank God. We will fight from there.”

Bowman, Bowyer, Byron also eliminated

The playoff roads for Alex Bowman, Clint Bowyer and William Byron also ended Sunday at Kansas. All three drivers needed serious misfortune from numerous drivers above them in the standings or a win. Those circumstances didn’t happen.

Byron was fifth while Bowyer finished eighth and Bowman was 11th. Bowman’s day was a struggle after early damage after contact with Ryan Newman.

“I got loose, I saved it and it was all good; that’s just racing. I guess just [Newman] being right there tore the left rear off of it,” Bowman said. “You wouldn’t think it, but that’s probably the most sensitive corner on these cars for rear downforce and rear side force. We really fought with it the rest of the day and all but crashed it for the remaining 260 laps or however long it was.”

Points standings

1. Kyle Busch, 4,046

2. Martin Truex Jr., 4,042

3. Denny Hamlin, 4,037

4. Joey Logano, 4,030

5. Kevin Harvick, 4,028

6. Chase Elliott, 4,024

7. Kyle Larson, 4,011

8. Ryan Blaney, 4,009

Race results

1. Denny Hamlin

2. Chase Elliott

3. Kyle Busch

4. Kurt Busch

5. William Byron

6. Martin Truex Jr.

7. Erik Jones

8. Clint Bowyer

9. Kevin Harvick

10. Jimmie Johnson

11. Alex Bowman

12. Ryan Preece

13. Chris Buescher

14. Kyle Larson

15. Matt DiBenedetto

16. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

17. Joey Logano

18. Paul Menard

19. Brad Keselowski

20. Austin Dillon

21. Ryan Blaney

22. Ty Dillon

23. Aric Almirola

24. Michael McDowell

25. Matt Tifft

26. David Ragan

27. Ross Chastain

28. Corey LaJoie

29. Parker Kligerman

30. JJ Yeley

31. Daniel Hemric

32. Daniel Suarez

33. Reed Sorenson

34. Garrett Smithley

35. Bubba Wallace

36. Josh Bilicki

37. Landon Cassill

38. Joey Gase

39. Timmy Hill

40. Ryan Newman

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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