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NASCAR: Hamlin advances with win in first ‘Chase’ race

Hamlin saw an opening on a late restart during the 400, the opening round of the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup, and took it, going on to win the race and automatically advance in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series playoff.
“We got a great restart and I just held it wide open through (turns) 1 and 2 and it stuck,” Hamlin said. “We had a fast car and that was the most important thing. We stretched out there at the end even with no tires.”
The winning move was actually set up moments earlier, when Hamlin’s crew chief to him to stay out on old tires when the yellow flag came out with five laps to go in the race
“It was ballsy, but I’d been stuck so many times three-wide in the middle,”
The remarkable part of Hamlin’s win is that he had started way back in the field — in 29th place — and overcame a spin in the second lap of the race that put him one lap down. It wasn’t until a restart after a caution period on Lap 122 that Hamlin was able to get back on the lead lap.
“Luckily, that one caution came out that allowed us to get the wave-around and get back on the lead lap,” said Hamlin.
Fortunes weren’t so good for reigning Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick. He made contact with Jimmie Johnson and pounded the wall during a restart on Lap 135, leaving him with a flat tire.
“I got a pretty good restart and I just held my line and the 48 (Johnson’s car) just slammed into my side door,” said Harvick of the incident. “That was pretty much it.”
Johnson saw the incident in a totally different way.
“He was pinning me down. When you’re in Kevin’s situation, you want to give that inside car a bad angle, so they’ve got to lift,” explained Johnson. “I pulled along side of him and then we were door-to-door, and then, as I moved back into the racing groove, that’s when we touched door-to-door, tire-to-tire.”
Harvick’s problems were not as simple as a flat tire. He had to drive his car to the garage for repairs and found himself 57 laps behind the leader when he returned to the track.
Harvick confronted Johnson after the race and was seen shoving the six-time Sprint Cup champion. One of Harvick’s crew members quickly stepped in and the two drivers separated without further incident.
Harvick finished the race 42nd and last among the 16 Chase drivers, but said his season his far from over.
“We can win anywhere. We could have won today,” said Harvick. “It’s just a matter of putting a couple of days together and being able to come back to Victory Lane. Same thing as last year.”
Carl Edwards finished second in the race and Kurt Busch placed third.
Hamlin was elated to see his name go up in the Contender Round, on the Chase grid, and said it is an advantage to have his spot locked after the first race. The win means he can relax a bit while working on a few things and start looking ahead to the second-round races at Kansas, Charlotte and Talladega.
“It will make us focus a little bit more on that next round. Now we got two weeks to do that,” Hamlin said. “Definitely it will be an advantage for us to have a couple weeks to just focus on those particular racetracks.”
The second race in the Challenger Round, on the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup schedule, the Sylvania 300, runs on Sept. 27 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

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