Hamlin ceded control of the race with 53 laps to go when he missed pit road under green while leading. As Hamlin had to continue on for another lap after slowing to pit — and being unable to get to pit road — he rejoined the race in the back half of the top 10.
That miscue turned out to be a blip on the radar. Hamlin worked his way through the field and was in second with 20 laps to go, though he was six seconds back of Truex. That didn’t matter either. Hamlin cut the gap and got to Truex’s bumper with three laps to go before Truex hit the wall because of a flat right-front tire.
We shouldn’t act like cutting the six-second gap was all smooth sailing either. As Hamlin had closed to within a second of Truex with six laps to go, he sent Landon Cassill’s lapped car into the wall on the backstretch. We assume the move was inadvertent — Hamlin could have easily been caught in a potential wreck himself — and it cost Hamlin a few tenths of a second to Truex.
“Drove our ass off,” Hamlin said. “That’s as hard as I can drive.”
The win is Hamlin’s second of the season and gives him 12 playoff points, the sixth most of any driver entering the 10-race championship battle. At fifth in the points standings, Hamlin could have the fifth-most playoff points of any driver after the regular season concludes next week in Richmond.
Truex won the first two stages of Sunday night’s race and, after Hamlin’s pit road mistake, looked primed to take his fifth victory of the season and extend what could be an insurmountable playoff point lead.
By winning the two stages, Truex clinched the regular season points championship. That gives him 15 bonus points to go on top of the 37 points he’s already accrued with 17 stage wins and 20 points from race wins.
The 52 points Truex is guaranteed to have will carry over through the first nine races of the playoffs. With the maximum points available per race at 60, Truex is incredibly well-positioned to be one of the four drivers racing for the championship at Homestead on Nov. 19. If he’s not, he will have had an unbelievably disastrous playoff round to get himself eliminated from contention before then.
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