KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Bubba Wallace was so comfortable cruising around Kansas Speedway on Sunday that he told his team over the radio in the closing laps that he didn’t want to know who was chasing him or how far back they might be.
He probably would have smiled knowing it was his boss.
Denny Hamlin managed to trim into Wallace’s lead down the stretch, but the co-owner with Michael Jordan of the No. 45 car for 23XI Racing ultimately ran out of time. Wallace took the checkered flag for his second NASCAR Cup Series victory, and made it back-to-back weeks that a non-playoff driver won a postseason race.
“I knew Denny was going to be strong,” Wallace said after climbing out of his car and throwing a little shade at his many detractors. “It’s cool to beat the boss, but man, we were just lights-out. Once we got to the lead, it was a lot of fun.”
Wallace got around playoff contender Alex Bowman for the lead with 67 laps to go, then built a 2-second cushion over a parade of drivers in the title hunt, each trying to earn the win that would ensure their spot in the round of eight.
Hamlin wound up at the front of it, finishing second to climb into third in the playoff standings.
“I was driving as hard as I could,” said Hamlin, who had no qualms about passing his own driver for the win. “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.”
Wallace, who became the 18th different driver to reach victory lane this season, also won during last year’s playoffs at Talladega, when he was likewise out of the title picture. And his victory Sunday came after Erik Jones, who also missed out on the postseason this year, won a chaotic race a week ago at Darlington.
“Just so proud of this team, so proud of the effort that they put in each and every week,” said Wallace, who won in the same No. 45 car that Kurt Busch drove to victory at Kansas earlier this year. “They work their tails off and I’m so proud.”
Busch stepped out of the ride while dealing with a concussion. He was quick to tweet 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 firmly in the playoff hunt — rounded out the top 10.
Bell was the only driver to clinch a spot in the next round on points. The other 11 are up for grabs heading to Bristol.
“I’m very happy that we’re finally getting the results that this team deserves,” Bell said. “Our speed has been there all year. I feel like we’ve given up a lot of good finishes. Hopefully we can build on this and keep rolling.”
Kevin Harvick spent the week ruing an inferno that ruined his playoff opener, and led to renewed discussions 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 competition caution. Ross Chastain drifted in front of him, took the air off Harvick’s nose and 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 is what it is,” said Harvick, who has failed to finish three straight races for the first time in a Cup careers panning 782 starts. “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, also ended in the first stage when his right rear tire 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 cut line along with Harvick, Chase Briscoe and Austin Dillon.
Busch trails Suarez by six points and Reddick and Austin Cindric by two 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. … Hamlin overcame a penalty for equipment during a pit stop.
The final race in the round is Saturday night on the concrete at Bristol, where Busch won the Cup race on dirt in April.