Martin Truex Jr. had plenty of speed and spent a lot of time at the front of the pack, but in the end, he wasn’t quite fast enough to catch Denny Hamlin in Sunday’s STP 400 at the Kansas Speedway. Their exciting battle for the lead at the race’s end, the final one before Kansas receives a necessary resurfacing, capped off another exciting week in NASCAR that saw Hamlin become the second repeat winner of the Sprint Cup season, along with Tony Stewart.
The week began with the 12 drivers from last year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup visiting President Barack Obama at the White House. There, Obama praised Stewart’s unlikely run to last year’s title, as well as Carl Edwards’ grace in defeat and Jimmie Johnson’s unprecedented five consecutive titles preceding Stewart’s ascendence to the throne. Obama joked that he liked seeing Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet on the White House lawn, and that maybe someday he’d get to drive Stewart's car.
In the midst of Earth Week, NASCAR also released a white paper detailing all of its green initiatives, boasting some of the most competitive environmental standards in all sports. The report listed the advances that NASCAR has made by introducing electronic fuel injection and E15 fuel in its race cars, and planned to broadcast a new “NASCAR Green” commercial during Sunday’s race on FOX. During the race weekend, the sport emphasized the program by promoting a recycling program, painted the backstretch green, and utilized a Toyota Camry Hybrid for its pace car.
But all was not perfect in the world of NASCAR this week, as legal issues and difficult news out of the Victory Junction board of directors came to light. While troubled ex-driver Jeremy Mayfield was indicted on Wednesday for a series of thefts dating back to 2010, NASCAR received a lawsuit from a former diversity driver candidate, Michael Rodriguez, who claims that the program discriminated against him for being “too Caucasian.” Meanwhile, Pattie Petty, the longtime leader of the camp for children with chronic diseases that was established in her late son Adam’s honor, says that the camp wants her to license her son’s name and give up any rights to visit the camp in exchange for emeritus status and two years of healthcare, despite being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease last year.
The quality of the racing managed to detract from the bad news, however. Saturday saw the Camping World Truck Series warm up the track with a 250-mile race. Tim George sat on the pole, but failed to lead a lap as Jason Leffler and Jason White led the first 33 laps. From there, James Buescher, the Daytona Nationwide winner, led 103 of the final 134 laps, including the last 11 after passing a moonlighting Brad Keselowski. Timothy Peters passed Keselowski for second, and took the points lead, now holding it by four over Buescher.
A.J. Allmendinger led the field to green on Sunday, leading the first 44 laps before green flag pit stops cycled the lead around to Truex. He’d dominate much of the race, leading for stretches of 45, 81, 43, and four laps to total a race-high 173. But on lap 237, Hamlin made the winning pass, and despite two daring slingshot moves to the inside of turns three and four from Truex in the final three laps, Hamlin held on for the victory. It was Hamlin’s 19th career victory, and the 199th victory for a car carrying No. 11, surpassing No. 43 for the winningest car number in Sprint Cup history.
Speaking of milestone victories, Jimmie Johnson had another strong run but finished third at Kansas. Hendrick Motorsports remains stuck with 199 Sprint Cup victories, and owner Rick Hendrick's 200th victory celebration will have to wait another week. The Sprint Cup Series has a short week ahead of a Saturday night race at Richmond International Raceway.