AVONDALE, Ariz. (Nov. 9, 2014) -- At Phoenix International Raceway over the weekend, Camry driver Denny Hamlin advanced to the final round of this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup championship that will take place next weekend at Homestead Miami Speedway. And in the NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS), Camry drivers earned two top-five results while Erik Jones earned a first-place trophy in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) race.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS)
In Sunday’s NSCS race at Phoenix, Matt Kenseth (third) and Hamlin (fifth) earned top-five finishes at the one-mile Arizona oval. Hamlin advances to the final round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup Series championship playoff with his finish and will contend for the 2014 NSCS championship against drivers Joey Logano, Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick.
Hamlin started from the pole and led the first 24 laps of today’s race, but a mishap on pit road caused the Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) No. 11 FedEx Ground Camry back to pit road with a flat right rear tire. Hamlin restarted the race from the 37th position and the handling of his Camry was not as strong as it had been early in the race causing him to lose a lap to the leader and eventual race-winner Harvick on two occasions during the race. Pit strategy and adjustments allowed Hamlin to work his way back through the field and ultimately to his seventh top-five finish of the season and a chance to battle for this year’s championship.
“It was an unbelievable afternoon,” said Hamlin, following the race. “We struggled. We had good track position and we had that issue on pit road and it put us back and we got a lap down twice -- lucky dog twice and just battled. We did some different things and made our car better and passed some cars and just fought back for a fifth-place finish. This is just an unbelievable day and gives us a lot of confidence going into next week.”
Hamlin is the top seed heading to Homestead Miami Speedway for the season-finale and brings confidence to next week’s championship battle.
“We’re going to be the underdogs going up against the 22 (Joey Logano) and the 4 (Kevin Harvick) and the 31 (Ryan Newman), but I can tell you there is no give up,” continued Hamlin. “Today is a prime example -- look at where we finished after just battling and battling back. Proud of my team. This is redemption and hopefully we’re able to capitalize next week.”
The JGR No. 11 Camry will represent Toyota in the four-driver championship battle for the first season of NASCAR’s new Chase format.
“This new Chase format has been full of emotional ups and downs and this weekend’s results at Phoenix are just another example of that roller coaster,” said David Wilson, president and general manager, TRD, U.S.A. “We are very pleased to have one Camry driver -- Denny Hamlin -- moving on to next weekend’s season-finale at Homestead, but of course we are disappointed to have another fall out of contention after the Phoenix race. It has been a great battle throughout this new Chase format and we were fortunate to have all three of the Joe Gibbs Racing Camrys qualify and compete in this year’s Chase. We expect Homestead to be an intense battle between the four talented drivers and teams. It will certainly be an exciting championship.”
Kenseth, who came into the race fifth in the NSCS point standings, ran in the top-five throughout the race, but even a third-place finish was not enough to allow the JGR No. 20 Dollar General Camry to advance to next weekend’s final four drivers to contend for the championship.
“That was a great run for this Dollar General team,” said Kenseth, following the race. “We exceeded our expectations here. It was great run for us and I’m proud of the guys for being third. I wish we would have made it in, but last week was disastrous, so it was fun being here with a shot -- just wish we could have came through. Fortunately Denny (Hamlin) is in so hopefully Denny can go take it home at Homestead. Definitely disappointed we didn’t make it through but it’s just been so up and down and our downs weren’t good enough and our highs weren’t high enough to make it into the next round.”
The final round of the Chase championship playoffs will take place at Homestead Miami Speedway on Sunday, Nov. 16.
Toyota NSCS Driver Finishing Positions -- at Phoenix International Raceway
Toyota Drivers in NSCS Point Standings -- following at Phoenix International Raceway*
2014 Toyota NSCS WINS: 2 -- Busch (1), California (March 23); Hamlin (1), Talladega (May 4)
Overall Toyota NSCS WINS (since 2007): 65
NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS)
In Saturday afternoon’s NNS race at Phoenix, Busch started from the pole and led a race-high 187 laps (of 206), but finished second to race-winner Brad Keselowski.
Busch dominated the 200-mile race, but as the JGR No. 54 Monster Energy Camry was getting ready to take the white flag for the final lap a caution came out for a slow car on the race track. The field lined up for a green-white-checkered finish and Busch was passed on the final lap.
“We had a really good car -- the Monster Energy Camry was fast, faster than everybody else just not at the right time,” said Busch, following the race. “Unfortunately all the adjustments that we made throughout the day, which made our car really good in the long run weren’t very good for the short run there on the take off. Just being really too tight, but overall it is what it is.”
Camry drivers Elliott Sadler (third) and Erik Jones (sixth) also registered top-10 finishes at the one-mile Arizona oval.
Sadler is currently fourth in the unofficial NNS point standings -- 66 points behind Chase Elliott, who clinched the 2014 NNS championship at Phoenix. Camry driver James Buescher is 11th in the standings.
The NASCAR Nationwide Series will finish the season at Homestead Miami Speedway, Nov. 15.
Toyota NNS Driver Finishing Positions -- at Phoenix International Raceway
Toyota Drivers in NNS Point Standings -- following Phoenix International Raceway*
2014 Toyota NNS WINS: 9 -- Busch (7), Phoenix (March 1), Bristol (March 15), Dover (May 31), Richmond (Sept. 5), Dover (Sept. 27), Kansas (Oct. 4), Texas (Nov. 1); Sadler (1), Talladega (May 3); Hornish (1), Iowa (May 18)
Overall Toyota NNS WINS (since 2007): 97
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS)
Jones captured the checkered flag in Friday night’s shortened NCWTS race at Phoenix International Raceway driving the Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) No. 51 Dollar General Tundra. The 18 year-old led a race-high 114 laps (of 126) and crossed the finish line ahead of Toyota driver Matt Crafton (second).
The 150-lap race was red-flagged and ultimately made official at lap 126 due to power outages in the area causing the one-mile Arizona oval to lose power throughout the evening. Jones was able to dominate the event and claim his third race win of the season along with set a record of 13 victories this season for Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM).
“Just an awesome Dollar General Tundra -- that’s all we can say,” said Jones, following the race. “It was a good truck when we built it -- one of the best ones we’ve built so far and it showed. Just proud to be a part of KBM and it’s been an awesome year. We broke the record with 13 wins in a season -- that’s amazing for these guys. Just excited for next year -- full season with them and chasing down the championship. It’s going to be a great year for sure. Can’t wait to get it started -- it’s been an awesome season with three wins. Just can’t believe it.”
Fellow Tundra driver Matt Crafton and current point leader finished second to Jones. While Crafton is certainly focused on becoming the series first back-to-back champion, his priority entering next weekend’s season finale at Homestead is one more victory this season.
“I’m going into Homestead and trying to win the race,” said Crafton, following the race. “That’s been our goal since Daytona -- we haven’t looked at the points and we haven’t focused anything on points. Just went out there and tried to win as many races as possible. We’ve only won two. We’ve had some bad luck -- leading a race, blew a right front tire and finished second too many times too.”
It was the 129th win for Tundra drivers since Toyota joined the series in 2004.
Kyle Busch (seven wins), Darrell Wallace Jr. (three wins) and Jones (three wins) have combined for 13 victories at KBM.
Crafton continues to lead the unofficial NCWTS standings by 25 points over second-place Ryan Blaney. Tundra drivers Wallace (third), Sauter (fourth), Peters (fifth), Quiroga (seventh) and Jeb Burton (ninth) are also in the top 10 in the point standings with one race remaining this season.
The final NCWTS race of the season will take place Friday at Homestead Miami Speedway, Nov. 14.
Toyota NCWTS Driver Finishing Positions -- at Phoenix International Raceway
Toyota Drivers in NCWTS Point Standings -- following Phoenix International Raceway*
2014 Toyota NCWTS WINS: 17 -- Busch (7) -- Daytona (Feb. 21), Kansas (May 9), Charlotte (May16), Dover (May 30), Kentucky (June 26), Chicagoland (Sept. 13), Texas (Oct. 31); Jones (3) -- Iowa (July 11), Las Vegas (Sept. 27), Phoenix (Nov. 7); Wallace (3) – Gateway (June 14), Eldora (July 23); Martinsville (Oct. 25); Crafton (2) – Martinsville (March 30), Texas (June 6); Sauter (1) -- Michigan (Aug. 16); Peters (1) -- Talladega (Oct. 18)
Overall Toyota NCWTS WINS (since 2004): 129
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