Monday, March 4 2024

Hamlin led 63 laps, including 62 of the 77 laps prior to that last caution. He felt he got a little stymied on the final restart as Larson, who was behind him, left a big gap between them in hopes of getting more momentum on the restart. NASCAR tells drivers not to lay back and drivers often jockey to see how far they can lay back without being penalized.

“I liked where I was at but the 5 [of Larson] was lagging so far back on the restart that if they allow it, you’re a sitting duck,” Hamlin said. “It’s advantageous if you can get away with it. … I had no choice but to back up to him and by doing that, I was sleeping on the start and let [Reddick] take the space I was hoping to have.”

Hamlin saw potential victories in the playoffs slip through his hands the last two weeks.

“I want to win — playoffs, whatever,” Hamlin said. “Two weeks in a row we’re really dominant and we don’t get a win.”

Elliott, Larson Close and Clash

Larson led a race-high 99 laps but lost his track position when several drivers pitted with about 35 laps remaining in the second stage. Larson and others tried to stay out thinking they might need an extra set of fresh tires for the end of the race.

“I felt really good about my car,” said Larson, who finished fourth. “Just a bummer but sometimes it goes that way.”

Elliott had a solid day, leading for 47 laps and finishing sixth.

“Our car was really solid,” Elliott said. “We were in the mix, I thought, to have a solid day. We passed Brad (Keselowski) for third and that is probably where we were going to finish. … We were as close as we’ve been. That was this.”

Elliott was not happy with Larson after that final pit stop when they were side-by-side and Larson had contact with Elliott as they were driving down pit road to exit the pits. Elliott then banged doors with Larson under caution.

Elliott said he wasn’t trying to send a message to Larson, although he did go up to talk to Larson after the race before Larson could even get out of his car.

“We were three-wide — I left my pit stall, Chase was in the middle lane and [Reddick] was in the outside lane,” Larson said. “[Keselowski] was pitted up in front of me and I was just trying to leave as much space as I could, and I had to avoid [him] and got into Chase a little bit.

“No damage was done, I don’t believe. I’m sure he was upset with me in the moment.”

Truex, Wallace Big Losers

Martin Truex Jr. won the regular-season title but now sits seven points outside the cutoff after a tire puncture three laps into the race resulted in a crash that relegated him to 36th.

“It’s a real shame,” Truex said. “I hate for my team. We had a really, really fast [car]. I can’t imagine about being this unlucky.”

Wallace also had a tire blow and while it didn’t end his day, he finished two laps down in 32nd. Wallace is 19 points behind the cutoff.

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter at @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.

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