Race Weekend Central

Denny Hamlin’s Crash Shows the Best, Worst of Modern Chase Format

Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Larson’s intense three-wide battle – and subsequent wreck – late in Saturday’s GoBowling.com 400 was bold, risky and, ultimately, expensive.

In essence, it was everything NASCAR’s newest Chase for the Sprint Cup format exemplifies, for better or worse.

Running inside of the top 5 all three of the drivers involved in the highlighted crash of Saturday’s race found themselves with an outside shot at victory with 27 laps remaining at Kansas Speedway.

In the past, running inside the top 5 would be enough to qualify as a good day. Many drivers of previous eras would be content to settle for a top-5 run, especially after a day like Hamlin’s where the Virginian was forced to overcome two speeding penalties.

In the modern era of NASCAR, though? Top 5s don’t matter, at least not to drivers that already have wins like Hamlin and Keselowski.

Sail that car into the turn. Don’t lift until you see Jesus. Hope and pray that the car finds grip to make it to the next one.

Such was the mindset of Hamlin as he dueled for a spot inside of the top four, searching to gain crucial track position in the event there was another restart in the race’s final laps.

The result? In this case, a multi-car crash that took out Hamlin and Joey Logano while also damaging others, including Keselowski and Larson.

“I was going for it and I wasn’t letting off,” said Hamlin after the incident. “The No. 42 (Larson) was just too close up there. We were trying to clear each other and I just got loose.”

Five years ago, sailing a car in that deep for anything other than the lead would likely be frowned upon. The unlikeliness that the move would lead to victory and few potential points gained wouldn’t be justifiable when compared to the hemorrhaged points from a crash.

Now, however? The move makes total sense.

Hamlin’s dive-bomb isn’t likely to gain him many fans after the crash, but settling for fourth would gain him virtually nothing on the Chase grid.

With a win in the season-opening Daytona 500, Hamlin’s been essentially locked into the Chase from the beginning of the year. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver’s only mission from now until September’s Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway is to try to rack up victories, accumulating bonus points and confidence heading into the Chase.

Good points days? They don’t matter anymore. The goal is a victory every week, no matter the cost. If you wreck yourself or someone else in the process, oh, well. On to the next one.

(Photo: Brett Moist/NKP)
Kyle Larson saw a chance for victory go up in smoke during Saturday night’s late-race wreck in Kansas. (Photo: Brett Moist/NKP)
When the checkered flag finally fell after 400 miles in Kansas, the ones who suffered most from Hamlin and Keselowski’s accidents were Logano and, on a much worse note, Larson.

While he hasn’t won yet, Logano is still sitting in a good position in the point standings. The Team Penske driver sits seventh on the grid, good enough to make the Chase with ease even without a victory.

Larson, on the other hand, isn’t doing so well.

Now in his third season with Chip Ganassi Racing, Larson’s early promise has given way to nagging inconsistency. The California driver has excelled with top 10s at Daytona International Speedway and Martinsville Speedway; however, six finishes outside of the top 20 have him sitting 21st in the standings after 11 races.

For Larson, a good points day would’ve been huge at Kansas. A top 5 result on the intermediate oval could’ve drawn him within 30 points of the current Chase grid. Instead, Saturday’s crash has him sitting 52 markers behind 16th place Ryan Blaney in the standings.

Considering CGR hasn’t won a race in nearly three years, Larson’s best bet to make his first Chase is to sneak in on points. After Hamlin’s accident on Saturday, accomplishing that feat just got a little bit harder.

For Larson and the other winless drivers in the paddock, trying to race their way into the Chase has become a delicate balance of conservative driving and aggression. Aggression can yield phenomenal results, even a Chase-clinching victory if the stars align just right. However, a conservative approach can be just as effective at reaching the playoff, as proven by drivers such as Paul Menard and Jamie McMurray.

With the right level of aggression and a little luck, Larson could have been the one in Victory Lane on Saturday. Knowing that, the CGR driver gave Kansas everything he had. Unfortunately for him, it didn’t work out. Now he’s sitting more than a full race out on points, leaving himself little margin for error going forward. Of course, if trying to make the Chase on points ultimately proves impossible, Larson can always crank up the aggression and try to steal a win along the way.

Such is the world of NASCAR we live in today. Points racing still has a place for those with supreme consistency and a dash of luck; however, a win is the ultimate trump card, holding more value than it ever has.

Fans who clamored for wins to have more importance have gotten exactly what they wanted, often at the expense of those that prefer consistency. Both groups do have one thing in common, though. If their driver doesn’t win, there’s only one thing to say.

Oh, well. On to the next one.

About the author

A graduate of Ball State, Aaron rejoins Frontstretch for his second season in 2016 following a successful year that included covering seven races and starting the popular "Two-Headed Monster" column in 2015. Now in his third year of covering motorsports, Aaron serves as an Assistant Editor for Frontstretch while also contributing to other popular sites including Speed51 and The Apex. He encourages you to come say hi when you see him at the track.

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I have no problem with that move. However, I find most Nascar fans full of shitz. When Brad threaded the needle a few years ago…Jesus, all sorts of nonsense, childish antics, mud slinging, hateful this and that. you would have thought he single handed murdered a whole village. Denny takes out 2 competitors, and cripples one and “that’s racing” AND IT IS. The press and the fans are a piece of work. The drivers themselves are full of shitz. Interesting bologna. Kudos for those effected, always keeping it classy.


I know, but my beef is with the hypocritical press and fans regarding the incidents. Brad was tarred and feathered and Denny “well that’s racing”. It gets tiring with the hypocrisy that is always present.


And you’ll be bitching about the same ol’ shit years later…………………


Spotty your mother is callling you, time to get the another hit on your snout for not passing puppy paper training again today. Pissing and pooping on the floor again. Some dogs never learn. Shadddup arshhhhole. Your obsession with my comments is truly puppy love… Spotty.


Who writes your material for you, bitch? You’re not smart enough to come up with that on your own, so why don’t you F.O. already, bitch.


The race was Saturday night not Sunday but yep that Ball State education must make them so proud. Where is your editor?

Also Hamlin better not say boo if he is leading at Richmond and Larson is in second right on his bumper. Larson definitely would need to take him out, bump and run, slam and bam, whatever to get the win.
Still not real sure why the 2 car moved down the track to open that lane for the 11 in the first place. Seemed odd at the time. It was almost an instant replay of the Texas incident with the 2 and the 24.

Bill B

I don’t think it’s right to have two classes of teams. Those that have a win can run with reckless abandon knowing that they are locked into the chase and screw the points. Those that don’t have a win need to worry about points. It isn’t fair that someone with nothing to lose can wipe out someone that needs the points because they don’t care with no repercussions to themselves.
IMO, this is one of the flaws of the win and your in rules. Where’s the justice for Kyle Larson. Do the guys that have to worry about points always have to back down because the previous winners can afford to put themselves in precarious positions. While it may be the rules, and there is technically nothing wrong with it, you have to admit that it doesn’t create a level playing field for all. It’s a system the mirrors real life, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

Broken Arrow

LMBO! “It’s not fair.” The words uttered on playgrounds and sports arenas around the world, by two-year olds and 32 year-olds alike.

Mother’s Day reminded me that my wonderful mother died young and her two bitchy sisters are in their late 80’s. Here’s a clue: LIFE is not fair. There is no law that says sports should be either.

Bill B

That explains a lot.

Tommy T.

In the not so distant past points racing was a big issue with the fans. Is drivers racing too hard for wins going to be the new bitch?


I’ve seen the ‘invaders’ show up at the local dirt tracks, they are there to win the feature money and don’t care about the points. That’s just racin!


What goes around comes around … or, what comes around goes around?!?

In “days of yore” … back before Winston came along and pumped $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ into winning the championship … winning the championship was basically an afterthought … … yes, the drivers of those days will tell you it was a nice thing to have your resume (winning the championship) … but, there wasn’t $$$ involved to make it their primary goal … … WINNING RACES was the primary goal! Heck, even into ’70s and ’80s, Darrell Waltrip specifically, and other drivers, too would say “Win races and the points will take care of itself!” Those were days when winning the Winston Cup was already paying a hefty a bonus, but winning a bunch of races still paid as much … … it was in later years when Winston (and the Cup sponsors who came later) REALLY threw in the money … and it then made it worth it to NOT go all out for the win each race as it was now a case of the “Big Picture” — winning the championship — far outweighed the “Little Picture” — winning a race(s) … … … … …

One difference is the drivers of the past still knew how to go all out for win without taking out half the field in the process!!

Buckie Jones

KS ain’t Dega or Tona & going 3 wide, like #11 did, is a definate recipe for disaster, as Hambone full well knows. Only way Hambone gets thru that corning is to lift off the gas. Which the ignert goes on national TV & laughs whilst saying he knew he was not about to make it (in so many words), & is not worried about wrecking fellow compeitors. Aka: “Im in the “Chase”, so my mission is to be a Penske wrecking ball for the rest of the season.” Aka: “JGR Yota Driver Code!” Mind you, #11’s teammate won this race after #11 wreck 1/2 a dozen of the races strongest contenders. A wreck during which the #20 (another JGR teammate) improved his position also, from running outside the top 10 to a P4 finish (his best of the year). See the rice patty trend? Imo this was intentional & thank goodness the NXS & CWT now have the “Chase” too, so all the young Yota bucks can learn how to fix races & championships by NOT racing, like the JGR crew.

Carl D.

I’m no Hamlin fan, but I have no problem with him making a bold move for position late in a race. He’s paid to do what it takes to win. As a spectator, I applaud any driver trying to add a little pizzazz to Saturday’s turd of a race.

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