By Reid Spencer - NASCAR Wire Service /
KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Driving the same car number that carried teammate Kurt Busch to victory in the May race at Kansas Speedway, Bubba Wallace claimed a dramatic win at the same track in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400, the second event in the first round of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
Wallace regained the lead on Lap 225 after the final cycle of green-flag pit stops at the 1.5-mile track and stayed out front for the final 43 circuits as his car owner, Denny Hamlin, chased him to no avail.
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Wallace crossed the stripe exactly one second ahead of Hamlin, as a driver not competing for the drivers’ championship won for the second straight week. Hamlin finished second for the second straight playoff race, having trailed Erik Jones to the line last Sunday at Darlington.
“Man, just so proud of this team, so proud of the effort that they put in each and every week,” said Wallace, who won for the first time this season and the second time in his Cup career. “Just thankful for the opportunity, right? Took this jump from an idea two years ago from a text from Denny before it all even happened. He was ready to get the deal done…
“Just so proud. Pit crew was awesome today. We had one loose wheel. Just thankful. Thanks for the opportunity, and thankful to shut the hell up for a lot of people.”
Wallace is competing for the Cup Series owners’ championship in the car Kurt Busch drove for the first 20 races of the season before suffering lingering symptoms from a concussion after a wreck in qualifying at Pocono. With his win, Wallace qualified for the next round in the owners’ competition.
Christopher Bell, who ran third, is the first driver to lock himself into the Playoffs’ Round of 12 on points. The other 15 championship contenders will have to establish their positions in the final 12 — or suffer elimination — next Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.
During the final run, Hamlin passed Bell for the second position on Lap 252 of 267. With 10 laps left, Hamlin trailed by 2.066 seconds but could get no closer than the final one-second deficit the rest of the way.
Hamlin clearly had mixed feeling about his pursuit of the No. 45 23XI Toyota he co-owns with NBA legend Michael Jordan.
“It’s been a good overall day,” said Hamlin, who recovered from an equipment interference penalty — his 34th pit road infraction of the season — on Lap 27 under a competition caution. “Still frustrated about the first half of the race. We just aren’t executing all that well.
“Really happy for our 11 Toyota team. They fought hard. They really stepped up that last half. We made the car quite a bit better. Just really happy about the outcome and really happy for that 45 team and Bubba Wallace and (crew chief) Bootie (Barker). Bubba has just really worked hard on his craft, and we’ve just given him fast race cars, and now he is showing what he has got.”