KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Bubba Wallace won his second career NASCAR Cup Series race Sunday and denied the playoff field an automatic spot in the next round for the second straight week when he held off championship contenders Denny Hamlin and Christopher Bell to win at Kansas Speedway.
Wallace, who is not among the 16 in the title hunt, got around Alex Bowman for the lead with 67 laps to go, then built a 2-second lead over a parade of playoff drivers trying to earn a win and ensure their spot in the round of eight.
Hamlin was at the front of it. And the co-owner with Michael Jordan of Wallace’s car at 23XI Racing managed to whittle about a tenth of a second off the No. 45’s lead over the closing laps. Hamlin ultimately ran out of time, and Wallace took the checkered flag in the same car that Kurt Busch won with at Kansas earlier this year.
“I knew Denny was going to be strong,” said Wallace, who stepped into the car while Busch deals with the effects of a concussion. “It’s cool to beat the boss, but it’s just cool to be lights-out today and come away with the win.”
Busch wasted no time in tweeting his congratulations.
Bell finished third and Bowman fourth with playoff outsider Martin Truex Jr. in fifth. William Byron, Ross Chastain, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney and Daniel Suarez — all in the playoff hunt — rounded out the top 10.
Bell clinched a spot in the next round of the playoffs on points. The other 11 spots are up for grabs heading to Bristol.
Wallace also won during last year’s playoffs at Talladega, when he was likewise out of the title picture. And his win came after Erik Jones, who likewise missed out on the postseason, won a week ago at Darlington.
Wallace became the 18th driver to win this season.
“I was driving as hard as I could,” said Hamlin, who gave all he had to chase Wallace down. “Nothing will ever come free when you’re driving for me. If you think I’m going to let you win, you better find another team.”
Kevin Harvick spent the week ruing an inferno that ruined his playoff opener, and led to plenty of discussion of safety in the Next Gen car. But it was the aerodynamics of the car that ruined Sunday and left his playoff hopes in peril.
The trouble began when Harvick was caught four-wide shortly after a Lap 25 competition caution. Ross Chastain drifted in front of him, took the air off Harvick’s nose and instantly made him loose. The three-time Kansas winner touched the wall out of Turn 4, then hit hard again across the start-finish line, leaving him with heavy damage to the right side.
It’s the first time in a Cup career spanning 782 races that Harvick has failed to finish three straight races.
“It is what it is,” Harvick said. “We were racing to win anyway today, so that’s what we will do again next week.”
Tyler Reddick’s brilliant weekend, which included his first pole on an oval, likewise ended in the first stage when his right rear went down. That sent his No. 8 sliding into the wall, breaking the upper control arm in the right front.
“We leave here with not a lot of points,” Reddick said, “so we’re going to fight hard at Bristol.”
Stage 2 was just as frustrating to playoff hopefuls. Many had problems on pit road, including Kyle Busch, who not only had a penalty for an uncontrolled tire but later spun into the grass and went a lap down. Busch finished 26th and fell below the playoff cutline along with Harvick, Chase Briscoe and Austin Dillon.
Busch trails Reddick and Austin Cindric by two points heading to Bristol. Dillon is another point back.
ODDS AND ENDS
JTG Daugherty Racing learned that longtime team member JR Hollar died early Sunday. He was 57. The cause was not disclosed. … Ricky Stenhouse Jr. also had a right rear tire go down while running near the front, then Harrison Burton and Corey LaJoie wrecked on the restart.
The final race in the round is Saturday night on the concrete at Bristol, where Busch won the Cup race on dirt in April.