NASCAR Cup fans treated to thrilling finish in AdventHealth 400 race at Kansas Speedway

·4 min read

The hottest day of the 2023 NASCAR season to date. A warm, slippery surface on the racetrack. Kansas Speedway’s multiple racing grooves, which typically allow drivers to run three-wide.

Sunday’s setting had all the ingredients for chaos ... and the AdventHealth 400 delivered in historic fashion.

NASCAR Cup drivers Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson dueled throughout the final 30 laps but Hamlin chased down Larson on the very last one, taking the lead on the backstretch.

Hamlin’s car made contact with Larson’s, but Hamlin nonetheless went on to claim the first victory decided by a final-lap pass at the Kansas City, Kan. tri-oval.

Fans in attendance weren’t shy about voicing their displeasure with Hamlin’s late tactics. But after snapping a 33-race winless streak (and winning his fourth race at Kansas, most ever for one driver), Hamlin didn’t really care.

“It kind of depends who’s there on the reaction you get (from fans),” Hamlin said. “I don’t have any reaction to it (the booing). Kyle is a little more popular than me, so that’s what you’ll get.”

Hamlin continued.

“I knew we were better (than Larson),” he said. “I saw him starting to get loose pretty early in the run. It was just a slow, slow march toward Kyle. When we were two to go, I knew the only way to have an attempt was to get a huge run up off turn 4. That run allowed me to get him up the racetrack so I (can) get beside him.”

The historic nature of Sunday’s finish didn’t end with the last-lap pass, either. Thirteen drivers cycled through the lead during the race, and its 38 lead changes were the most in NASCAR history during a 400-mile race on a 1.5-mile track.

Multiple drivers battled their way through the field. Larson finished runner-up despite being sent to the back of the pack when he spun out on lap 6. William Byron briefly held the lead despite running more than 50 laps while two laps down.

Throw in 11 cautions and a post-race brawl on pit road between Ross Chastain and Noah Gragson, and Sunday certainly didn’t lack for drama.

First, the finish. After most of the race was muddied by cautions and restarts, Hamlin and Larson separated themselves from the field. Larson appeared to touch the wall with 14 laps to go, opening the door.

Hamlin slowly tracked down Larson before making his decisive move.

“I haven’t seen a replay, but I was really loose there off of (turn) 2, and it seems like he was side-drafting me aggressively,” Larson said. “We were touching there on the backstretch. I don’t know if it got me turned sideways, but it turned me into the outside wall and he went on to win.”

Byron finished third, followed by last fall’s winner here — Bubba Wallace — and Chastain.

Speaking of Chastain, the Cup Series points leader’s reputation for aggravating his fellow competitors gained another layer Sunday. He was involved in multiple incidents, including one with Gragson, who decided to confront Chastain when the race was over.

The two locked horns in a brief shoving match before Chastain threw a punch. The duo was soon separated by NASCAR officials.

Said Gragson: “I went down there and grabbed him and showed my displeasure. I’m sick and tired of this (crap). He runs into everyone. I’m sick and tired of him, and nobody has the (guts) to go up and get him.”

Chastain’s take?

“I got tight off of (turn) 4, for sure,” he said. “Noah and I have a very similar attitude on the racetrack. We train together, we prepare together, we know every little bit about each other. ... A very big man once told me we have a no-push policy here.”

It was a fitting finish to quite possibly the craziest day of NASCAR racing in the history of Kansas Speedway.

Win No. 400 for Team Gibbs

Hamlin’s win secured victory No. 400 for the Joe Gibbs Racing team — a fine compliment to the three Super Bowls won by Gibbs during his tenure as the head coach in Washington.

“It’s a thrill,” Gibbs said. “When we started in racing, our very first year in ‘91, we had 17 people and one car. We kept building and building, and I didn’t think it would be anything like we are today.”

NASCAR Cup driver Denny Hamlin treats spectators to the traditional winner’s smokeshow after prevailing in Sunday’s AdventHealth 400 race at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan.
NASCAR Cup driver Denny Hamlin treats spectators to the traditional winner’s smokeshow after prevailing in Sunday’s AdventHealth 400 race at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan.