AVONDALE, AZ – Joe Gibbs Racing’s dream scenario this weekend at the ISM Raceway would be for both Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch to join Martin Truex Jr. into the Championship 4. But, in order for that to likely happen, Hamlin and Busch would have to finish 1-2 — in that order.
See, Busch and Joey Logano were battling for the one wildcard spot that we knew would go to Homestead. Only two points separated the duo entering this weekend. Following the first two stages, Logano outscored Busch 17-15 in terms of stage points. It was shaping up exactly how we thought it would. They were now tied and the one to get that spot to the final four would be the one that finished in front of the other.
On the Lap 176 restart, Logano was first, Hamlin was second and Busch in third. That was the turning point of this race.
Logano, had a bad tire pressure adjustment and fell hard. He went from in the lead to 11th, one lap down, in 62 laps. Meanwhile, Hamlin was in the lead and Busch was second. It was shaping up how they needed it to.
Then, John Hunter Nemechek crashed on Lap 302 bringing out the fifth and final caution with 10 laps-to-go. A pit stop would ensue. Hamlin, took two tires and would restart in the lead. Busch, took four and would restart third. Logano, was back on the lead lap in ninth.
But, Hamlin had a great launch and would clear second place Ryan Blaney quickly. Busch, would quickly get by Blaney on the first lap of the restart and settle in to follow Hamlin to Homestead.
They finished 1-2 and would take 75-percent of the Championship 4. It’s now them vs. Kevin Harvick for the 2019 championship.
But, the day was also better all around. Truex, would finish sixth while Erik Jones was seventh. All four cars in the top seven. Plus, the win was JGR’s 18th of the year, joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2007 as the most wins by an organization during a single season.
It all started in a 1-2-3 finish in the season opening Daytona 500. They’d not only win Daytona, but the Coca-Cola 600, the Southern 500, the Bristol Night Race and 14 others. Now, if they can win next Sunday, they’d get a championship and sole possession of the most wins in a single year at 19.