NASCAR: Denny Hamlin not locked into playoffs after Kansas

Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, Kansas, NASCAR (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, Kansas, NASCAR (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

Denny Hamlin earned his first NASCAR Cup Series victory in nearly a year on Sunday afternoon after a thrilling battle with Kyle Larson at Kansas Speedway.

It took until lap 267 of 267, but Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin was finally able to get around Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson on Sunday afternoon at Kansas Speedway. He took advantage of Larson’s No. 5 Chevrolet getting loose off turn two — and slight contact with the car — to win the AdventHealth 400, securing his first trip to victory lane of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season.

Hamlin’s victory, his fourth at the four-turn, 1.5-mile (2.414-kilometer) Kansas City, Kansas oval, made him the ninth different driver to win through the season’s one-third (12 races) mark. He had been winless since last year’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, so his win snapped a 33-race win drought.

Because there are still 14 regular season races remaining on the schedule, the win doesn’t officially lock the driver of the No. 11 Toyota into the postseason for the 10th straight year.

It does, however, make it highly unlikely that he won’t be one of the 16 NASCAR Cup Series playoff drivers.

The regular season points champion, irrespective of whether or not he wins a regular season race, and the 15 drivers who rank next highest in wins are the drivers who qualify for the playoffs.

This means that only the multi-race winners, at this point in the season anyway, are truly locked into the postseason, since there can’t be more than 13 of them.

The single-race winners could technically be bumped out since there could be more playoff eligible drivers than playoff spots by the time the regular season ends, in which case the tiebreaker among them becomes points.

Right now, there are actually 10 drivers, not just the nine winners, atop the playoff picture after the season’s first 12 races, as points leader Ross Chastain of Trackhouse Racing Team holds the lead despite having not won a race this year. The regular season champion is treated as a multi-race winner when it comes to locking up a playoff spot.

As for Hamlin, he has very little to worry about, even if there are 16 or more winners (or 15 or more with a winless regular season champion).

He sits in a third place tie in the standings, good for a second place tie among the six drivers with exactly one win, and is 73 points ahead of the lowest placed winner (JTG Daugherty Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 14th place).

Other single-race winners include Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Christopher Bell (second place) and Martin Truex Jr. (third place tie), 23XI Racing’s Tyler Reddick (sixth), and Team Penske’s Joey Logano (11th).

The three drivers locked into the postseason with multiple wins include Larson, teammate William Byron, and Richard Childress Racing’s Kyle Busch.

Next. All-time NASCAR Cup Series wins list. dark

The 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season’s 13th race, the Goodyear 400, is scheduled to take place on Mother’s Day Sunday, May 14. It is set to be broadcast live on Fox Sports 1 from Darlington Raceway starting at 3:00 p.m. ET. Will a 10th different winner emerge? Be sure to begin a free trial of FuboTV and don’t miss it!