Denny Hamlin passed Mayetta, N.J. driver Martin Truex, Jr. with 31 laps remaining to win the STP 400 at Kansas Speedway Sunday afternoon.
With his 19th career Sprint Cup victory, Hamlin joins Tony Stewart as the only multiple-race winners so far in 2012 and moves into the top five in points as the series moves to Hamlin’s home track at Richmond International Raceway next Saturday night.
After a dismal 2011 season, which saw Hamlin only take one victory and struggle in the Chase, Joe Gibbs Racing made a crew chief change. They released long-time crew chief Mike Ford for defending Sprint Cup championship crew chief Darian Grubb, after he was let go from Stewart-Haas Racing.
The race was similar to the race at Texas, with long green-flag runs and a few dominant cars. A.J. Allmendinger in his AAA Dodge Charger started on the pole for the second time in his Sprint Cup career. Kevin Harvick in the Rheem Chevrolet started on the outside of the front row.
Allmendinger would get a great start and hold the lead for the first 44 laps of the 267 lap race. During the first set of green-flag pit stops, Allmendinger’s team would struggle and issues with the engine cost Allmendinger a chance at his first victory.
Truex, Jr. had a strong NAPA Toyota all day, taking control of the race at Lap 47. Truex would lead 173 of the next 190 laps with the lead changes taking place during pit stops.
Truex and crew chief Chad Johnston barely adjusted the car all day because of his speed and ability to get away from the pack. However, the weather altered the eventual finish. After battling a mostly cloudy and windy afternoon in Kansas, the sun came out just after the last set of pit-stops, which hurt the handling of the NAPA machine. Hamlin, in his Fed Ex Toyota, started gaining on Truex after the final stop and passed the dominant car with just 31 laps remaining. Truex, Jr. would attempt to pass Hamlin twice late in the race but was unsuccessful.
Behind Hamlin and Truex, Jr. in the top five were Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and series points leader Greg Biffle. Positions 6-10 had Harvick, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch.
Biffle leads the points by 15, losing four points to new second place holder Truex, Jr. Kenseth is a further two points back in third, while Earnhardt, Jr. is 21 markers back in fourth. Hamlin moves into the top five with his second victory, trailing Biffle by 23 points with one of his best tracks coming up at Richmond.