KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Denny Hamlin held off hard-charging Martin Truex Jr. down the stretch on Sunday to win at Kansas Speedway for the first time.
Truex had dominated most of the race, but Hamlin had gone to the front when his car hooked up under the first sunshine of the afternoon. Truex mounted a comeback, diving low with a couple laps left, but he couldn’t make the move stick and Hamlin pulled away.
He coaxed his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota the rest of the way for his second win this season.
Truex wound up leading a race-high 173 laps but had to settle for second, his third top-5 finish of the season. He still hasn’t won in 175 Sprint Cup races.
Jimmie Johnson finished third for Hendrick Motorsports, which has failed in 14 tries to win the team’s milestone 200th race. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne also finished in the top 10.
“I was just watching from the third spot, hoping those guys would give me an opportunity,” Johnson said. “I just wish I was closer to those guys to race for it.”
Hamlin’s best finish at Kansas Speedway was third last year, and for most of Sunday he was content to ride around during long green-flag runs away from the spotlight.
He kept getting better with each stop, though, and his car seemed to hook up after the final one, when the sun finally broke through on a blustery, overcast day.
Truex said that his final set of tires might have cost him. He was looser than he had been all afternoon with the final set, and that allowed Hamlin to build enough of a buffer to hold off his final charge. Truex was five lengths down with five laps left, but pulled even with two to go.
“I guess if we can be this frustrated with second, it tells you how close we are as a team,” said Truex, who hasn’t won since Dover in 2007. “The race car was really good. I’m just not really sure what to think about that last set of tires. I was just wrecking-loose that last set.”
Truex called the performance a statement win for Michael Waltrip Racing.
Hamlin is starting to have a statement season.
He won earlier this year at Phoenix, started on the pole at California, and led 31 laps a couple weeks ago at Martinsville before finishing sixth.
The 14-race drought for Hendrick Motorsports is the longest since going 15 races without a win during the 2002 and ’03 seasons. The streak began after Johnson’s win last October at Kansas.