By Dustin Albino

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Another week, another race where Denny Hamlin had a rocketship. This time, it came at Kansas Speedway, a track where Toyota went undefeated through its first four Next Gen races.

Hamlin diced to the front from his 14th-place starting position in a clean and green opening stage of the AdventHealth 400, taking the lead for the first time on Lap 63. He traded the lead back and forth with Kyle Larson, but finally pulled away and picked up his third stage victory of the 2024 season.

The No. 11 team had multiple issues on pit road throughout the race, with the first trouble spot coming at the end of the opening stage. Hamlin was boxed in by Austin Hill, dropping seven spots in the running order. It took a bit longer for Hamlin to dice through traffic this time, though he finished third in the second stage. He was then held up on pit road, as Ryan Preece struggled to find his pit stall, resulting in another seven-position loss.

Hamlin struggled to regain track position early in the final stage, but when Harrison Burton spun on Lap 193, crew chief Chris Gabehart called Hamlin to pit road. Both Hamlin and Chris Buescher — the drivers who combined to win the first two stages — were the only frontrunners to pit, potentially being in their fuel window to make it to the end of the race. Joey Logano spun on the restart, dragging every other lead-lap car to pit road. Hamlin cycled to the lead.

“I‘ll tell you, with 70 (laps) to go, it wasn‘t looking really good,” Hamlin said after the race. “We had some pit-road miscues that set us back, but [Gabehart] and the guys did a great job coming up with a strategy there to pit and then jump the field back.”

Hamlin remained in control of the race while being instructed by Gabehart to use 80% throttle going into the corners to maximize fuel saving. Martin Truex Jr. began chopping big chunks of time off Hamlin‘s lead in the waning laps, but Kyle Busch cut a tire and spun with five laps remaining in the race. Gabehart chose to go with two fresh tires and give Hamlin the lead.

As soon as the overtime finish went green, Kyle Larson put Hamlin three-wide entering Turn 1. The No. 11 car was trapped in the middle, getting passed by the No. 5 Chevrolet, Buescher, Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr., sinking to fifth at the checkered flag. Dating back to his Dover win, however, Hamlin has now scored consecutive top five finishes for the first time in 2024. He also had a front row seat to the closest finish in NASCAR Cup Series history between Larson and Buescher.

“Well, a difficult spot, right?” Hamlin said, regarding the overtime restart. “I needed to get the push from [Larson], but I knew he wasn‘t going to stay in line, that he was going to go for the win. Unfortunately, it left me in a spot where I was vulnerable in the middle.”

For the second straight week, Hamlin led the most laps in the race, as he paced the field for 71 laps. The No. 11 Toyota has led the most laps in four of the 12 races this season, and has led laps in the last 16 races, dating back to the playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last October.

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