NASCAR Barometer: Hamlin Wins to Join Teammates in Homestead

NASCAR Barometer: Hamlin Wins to Join Teammates in Homestead

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Denny Hamlin dominated much of Sunday's Bluegreen Vacations 500 at ISM Raceway, surviving a late restart to win his second race at the track and sixth of the season. The victory puts him in the final four eligible to win the season championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway this week, of which three are Joe Gibbs Racing drivers. Kevin Harvick will be the lone driver outside of that organization with a chance to claim the season title and will have to overcome the Toyota powerhouse that has dominated much of the season so far. Hamlin's Phoenix win made him the only driver among the final four not to have won the series championship yet, but he has won at Homestead twice before. His last title chance came in 2014 and he may have to win again this week to get the job done.

The 2019 season concludes this week in the traditional Miami closer. Winning the title in recent years means winning the race, too. All four drivers have won at the track, but only Hamlin has won more than once. In a season of twists and turns, it's appropriate that the drivers who have won the most races this season are the ones fighting it out for season dominance. It all comes to a close this week in the Ford EcoBoost 400.

UPGRADE

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin used a late restart to jump in front and score the first stage win in Phoenix Sunday afternoon. He then ran out front for

Denny Hamlin dominated much of Sunday's Bluegreen Vacations 500 at ISM Raceway, surviving a late restart to win his second race at the track and sixth of the season. The victory puts him in the final four eligible to win the season championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway this week, of which three are Joe Gibbs Racing drivers. Kevin Harvick will be the lone driver outside of that organization with a chance to claim the season title and will have to overcome the Toyota powerhouse that has dominated much of the season so far. Hamlin's Phoenix win made him the only driver among the final four not to have won the series championship yet, but he has won at Homestead twice before. His last title chance came in 2014 and he may have to win again this week to get the job done.

The 2019 season concludes this week in the traditional Miami closer. Winning the title in recent years means winning the race, too. All four drivers have won at the track, but only Hamlin has won more than once. In a season of twists and turns, it's appropriate that the drivers who have won the most races this season are the ones fighting it out for season dominance. It all comes to a close this week in the Ford EcoBoost 400.

UPGRADE

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin used a late restart to jump in front and score the first stage win in Phoenix Sunday afternoon. He then ran out front for much of the final stage under green flag conditions, putting some championship rivals a lap down in the process. In the end, he only had to survive a late caution and a two-tire stop to stay out front and lead teammate Kyle Busch home to victory to secure his spot in the championship finale this coming week in Miami. Hamlin has two Homestead wins from 2009 and 2013 and started on pole in three of the last four races at the track. He may have to win again on Sunday to claim the season title.

Kyle Busch – Busch was a top car throughout Sunday's race in Phoenix and raced to a runner-up finish behind teammate Hamlin, which put both drivers into the Homestead finale. He spent time out front early in Sunday's race before Hamlin took over and then spent much of the final stage chasing his teammate. A late restart and a call for a four-tire stop under caution may have cost him the chance of coming out of the pits out front, but it didn't matter since the goal was advancing to Homestead still in championship contention. Busch won at Homestead in 2015 and hasn't finished lower than sixth at the track since then. He will be battling his teammates to get the job done this year.

Ryan Blaney – Blaney may have come up short of his goal of making it to Miami in contention for the championship, but his performance Sunday put him in position to be there should anyone else falter. Blaney was not as strong as his teammates earlier in the season and only grabbed his first win in the playoffs. He peaked at the right time, though and, in this format, that may matter more than season-long consistency. Next year he will work on both and more race wins, and perhaps even a championship seems inevitable. Blaney will need to work on his Homestead statistics, however. In four races at the track his best finish is 17th, which he has done twice. His average finish from four career starts is 22.2.

Erik Jones – While he wasn't earning the headlines his teammates were on Sunday, Jones quietly went about his business and secured another top-10 finish with his seventh-place run. That finish was his second top-10 in a row and third in the last five races. He is part of the historic season for Joe Gibbs Racing with his win at Darlington but will be looking for more next season as he strives to reach the heights of his garage mates. Jones will need consistency and some better luck to achieve that next season, which is exactly where the No. 20 team will focus as soon as the flag falls next week on the 2019 season. Jones will want to better his best Miami finish of 21st before that, though.

DOWNGRADE

Joey Logano – Logano started on the front row in Phoenix but truly came to life when he put himself in front in the second stage and cruised to the segment win. The final segment was not as good, as he slipped outside of the top 10 and went a lap down and well out of championship contention. Had Hamlin not won the race, Logano would have made his way into the finale, but in the end, he wasn't able to finish high enough in the order to have a chance to defend his title. Logano won in Miami last season to claim his first series title and will likely need to repeat that feat to claim the championship this season, too.

Chase Elliott – Elliott faced a must-win situation Sunday in Phoenix, but things did not turn out the way he needed. Despite running in the top five through the first half of the race, Elliott crashed just past the halfway mark. The crash ended his day and his championship hopes. His good luck simply left him starting in Martinsville, and it became too much for him to overcome in the final races of the 2019 playoffs. It is still early in his career and a title seems likely at some point, but it won't be this year. In three Homestead starts his average finish is 7.7 and his lowest result was 11th in his first try in 2016. He was seventh in this race last season.

Kyle Larson – Despite making it to the final round of eliminations, Larson did not have the strength to force his way into the championship finale. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver was a top-10 driver throughout Sunday's race at Phoenix but that wasn't enough for him to see his way through to the final four. A late restart gave him a slim chance to move forward, but it proved not to be enough, leaving him outside of the cut line to advance to the championship finale. He will need to wait another year and find more consistency than he had this season to get the job done. Larson has three top-five Homestead finishes and an average finish of 8.5 from six career starts. He started 11th and finished 13th there last season.

William Byron – After a few weeks of success, it was a bit surprising to see Byron struggle in Phoenix. The Hendrick Motorsports driver wasn't one of the quick cars throughout the weekend's on-track sessions and that carried right into the race where he never looked better than a top-15 car. Byron's 17th-place finish was his second in a row and third finish outside of the top 15 in the last five races. It was a slow start to the season for Byron, but he improved as the season advanced and showed he has the potential to be a playoff contender for years to come. He'll have one more chance to prove that this week. He started 28th and finished 24th at Homestead last season and needs to do better than that this week.

Aric Almirola – Almirola has shown the highs and the lows of racing just in the past two weeks. He was runner up in the Stewart-Haas Racing sweep of the top positions just one week ago in Texas and then stumbled to a 22nd-place finish at Phoenix on Sunday. The SHR Fords couldn't challenge the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas this past week, and most observers barely knew Almirola was even in the race. Despite scoring two top-fives in the last five races, he also scored three finishes worse than 20th. Homestead has been a decent venue for him in the past, and he'll hope to finish the season with the momentum of another top finish if possible. His average finish at the track is 21st, but he finished ninth last season.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Joe Gibbs Racing – It may not be the biggest surprise after how this season has played out, but Joe Gibbs Racing successfully placed three of its four drivers into the final four eligible to claim the 2019 season championship. This is the first time a team has secured that many spots in the championship decider. The trio must still overcome Harvick to hoist the season's most prized trophy, but the odds of one of JGR's drivers taking the title have been maximized with their performances. It was nothing short of a dominating season from the organization. The four drivers tallied 18 total victories in the 2019 season and will now look to put the cheery on top with another win this week in Miami.

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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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