NASCAR Barometer: Hamlin Wins in Kansas City

NASCAR Barometer: Hamlin Wins in Kansas City

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Denny Hamlin won his fifth race of the season in Thursday night's Super Start Batteries 400 at Kansas Speedway. The race was another battle between Kevin Harvick and him in the final miles as the pair continue their seesaw battle for supremacy in 2020. Hamlin led 57 laps in total and collected even more points by finishing in the top 10 in the first two stages of the race, too. The pair have separated themselves from the rest of the field since live racing returned in May, but Hamlin's win reversed a brief span of finishes without a top 10. The pair's battle also seems likely to intensify as the final seven races of the regular season wind down and the playoff races loom on the horizon.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway hosts the next round where Harvick swept the wins last season. The Northeastern oval, with its long straights, will mark a different type of racing than fans have witnessed for most of July. However, the usual suspects have a knack for putting themselves into the frame each week regardless of track configuration. 

UPGRADE

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin came out on top of another late-race battle with Harvick Thursday night at Kansas City to move back to the top of the list for most wins so far this season. Like in many of the races this season, Hamlin was quick from the start and focused on the finish through pit strategy. As the final segment wound down, he consolidated his

Denny Hamlin won his fifth race of the season in Thursday night's Super Start Batteries 400 at Kansas Speedway. The race was another battle between Kevin Harvick and him in the final miles as the pair continue their seesaw battle for supremacy in 2020. Hamlin led 57 laps in total and collected even more points by finishing in the top 10 in the first two stages of the race, too. The pair have separated themselves from the rest of the field since live racing returned in May, but Hamlin's win reversed a brief span of finishes without a top 10. The pair's battle also seems likely to intensify as the final seven races of the regular season wind down and the playoff races loom on the horizon.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway hosts the next round where Harvick swept the wins last season. The Northeastern oval, with its long straights, will mark a different type of racing than fans have witnessed for most of July. However, the usual suspects have a knack for putting themselves into the frame each week regardless of track configuration. 

UPGRADE

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin came out on top of another late-race battle with Harvick Thursday night at Kansas City to move back to the top of the list for most wins so far this season. Like in many of the races this season, Hamlin was quick from the start and focused on the finish through pit strategy. As the final segment wound down, he consolidated his position at the front, and once he dispatched Harvick, he was able to stretch his legs to the finish as Brad Keselowski's late charge was not enough to reel in the No. 11. Hamlin is in championship form, and his battles with Harvick are foreshadowing a titanic battle to the finale for the title. Hamlin has three New Hampshire wins from his 26 career starts and finished second there last fall – to Harvick, of course.

Kevin Harvick – Harvick and Hamlin have firmly taken control of the 2020 NASCAR Cup series season. Thursday night was another picture of consistency for Harvick. He spent the entire race distance racing in the top five and collected a fourth-place finish, which was his sixth in a row, seventh if you include the All-Star Race. He has been making the 2020 season his own and appears to be in prime condition to be part of the championship battle all the way to the Phoenix season finale. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver swept both races at New Hampshire last season and has four career wins at the circuit. That and his recent string of top-five finishes should make him one of the favorites next week.

Brad Keselowski – Despite making a four-tire stop, Keselowski was able to move forward on the final restart of the second stage to take the lead and win the segment ahead of teammate Ryan Blaney. He led 30 laps throughout the night and finished second behind Hamlin for his fourth top-10 finish in the last four races. Despite not making a lot of noise, Keselowski has kept himself firmly in step with the Harvicks and Hamlins of the series. This team is methodically getting themselves ready for the playoffs and could be among the best prepared as the knockout rounds approach. Keselowski has one New Hampshire win from 2014 and started from pole before finishing 10th there last fall and should continue to be a reliable top-10 option for fantasy players next week. 

Kyle Busch – Busch earned his first playoff point of the season by winning the first stage of Thursday's race. He led 52 total laps and was a consistent figure in the top five throughout the night before losing grip and making contact with the outside wall. That small misstep put him out of contention for the win and left him to salvage a finish of 11th after stopping for quick repairs and a fresh set of tires. Small problems continue to keep Busch out of Victory Lane, but Busch has shown that he has the speed to win, and his first 2020 victory may be quickly followed by more. Busch has three New Hampshire wins from 28 starts and has finished 12th or better there in each of the last six races.

DOWNGRADE

Joey Logano – Logano's night at Kansas City started poorly with an uncontrolled tire penalty on his first pit stop. It then proceeded to get worse, as he suffered a mechanical failure on a restart and hit the outside wall, collecting multiple cars, less than 200 laps into the race. That failure and resulting contact was enough to put Logano out of the race for the night. The 35th-place finish was Logano's worst since Pocono last month when he finished 36th. The finish will be especially painful considering he should have taken a top-10 finish away given the speed he was showing until that issue. Logano has two career New Hampshire victories and finished 10th or better in the last three races at the track.

Matt DiBenedetto – Crashing out of Thursday night's race in Kansas isn't what DiBenedetto needed as he fights to remain in contention for the championship playoffs. He was one of the casualties of Logano's trouble and made hard contact with the outside wall, immediately ending his night. The 36th-place finish with which he was credited is his worst of the season and worst since finishing 31st at Bristol in May. Following Thursday's race, DiBenedetto has fallen to 15th in the standings and is clinging to a 25-point gap back to William Byron in the final championship position. In eight New Hampshire starts, DiBenedetto has a best finish of fifth, which came last time out in 2019.

Ryan Blaney – Blaney was fast enough to race in the top five and for the lead much of Thursday night's race in Kansas City. In the final stage, while making a pass, his car bobbled at the corner entry and put him into the wall, leaving him with damage to deal with for the rest of the race. By the time the race finished, he had fallen back to 20th on a day where he should have been battling for the win. His win at Talladega has him in the playoffs, but maintaining momentum and building the platform for the championship charge is important as the regular season draws to a close. Mistakes like Thursday's have to be eliminated before the playoffs commence. Blaney's last three New Hampshire races have been his best in the track with finishes of ninth, seventh and fourth. 

Jimmie Johnson – How long can Johnson's bad luck continue? The former champion in his final season of full-time competition has had the speed to win races this year but hasn't been able to close the deal. Thursday night was another example, as a crash took him out of the race under the damaged vehicle policy, despite him racing in the top 10 for most of the evening until that point. He had been racing in the pack and had nowhere to go as cars began to crash around him, damaging the front of his machine and cutting his night short. The damage was especially painful since it knocked him further out of playoff contention. He's now 18 points behind the final championship slot. Johnson has won three times in New Hampshire. He finished 10th there last spring and 30th in the fall.

Ryan Preece – Preece had a night to forget Thursday in Kansas City, but the worst part is that it comes on the heels of a string of terrible races for the No. 37 team. The first incident Preece endured on Thursday was a slowing Matt Kenseth directly ahead of him that left him with little choice but to make contact. He soldiered on, but his night was cut short when another incident ahead of him sent him careening into the inside wall with heavy damage. Preece has now had four finishes of 34th or worse in the last four regular season races. Twice in that span he finished last in the field. This is a team that should be collecting top-20 finishes, but they need to get to the finish in order to do that.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

William Byron –  Byron quietly has been maneuvering himself back into playoff contention, successfully navigating around the trouble that has hampered many of his competitors around the cutoff line. Byron's 10th-place finish Thursday night in Kansas City was good timing, as a few of the other playoff contenders stumbled. That left Byron in the 16th and final playoff position with a 10-point gap back to Tyler Reddick in 17th. Seven races remain for Byron to separate himself from the others, and continuing to score top-10 finishes will go a long way to finalizing his spot among the championship contenders. Up next is New Hampshire where he finished 14th and 12th in the two races last season.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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