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NASCAR Cup Kansas II

Hamlin: "Nothing will ever come free" driving for 23XI Racing

Make no mistake, if Denny Hamlin had the chance to pass Bubba Wallace for the win Sunday at Kansas, it would have been no-holds-barred.

Once Hamlin got around Christopher Bell with 16 of 267 laps remaining, the only driver preventing Hamlin from a win was his own.

Hamlin co-owns 23XI Racing with NBA legend Michael Jordan, which is the team for which Wallace drives.

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Hamlin said, however, he held nothing back trying to earn the win, which would have locked Hamlin into the second round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. He fell 1-second short to Wallace at the finish.

Asked if had caught Wallace, would he have tried to pass him, Hamlin said: “Yeah, I mean, I nearly wrecked trying to catch him off (Turn) 4. I got bad loose and hit the fence but I was driving as hard as I could.

“Nothing will ever come free when you’re driving for me. If you think I’m going to let you win, you better go get another job.’

Race winner Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, Toyota Camry

Race winner Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, Toyota Camry

Photo by: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP / Motorsport Images

Hamlin had struggled in qualifying on Saturday and started 25th in the race. He took another hit during the competition caution early in Stage 1 when his No. 11 team was penalized for equipment interference during its pit stop and he had to restart from the rear of the field.

By the start of the final stage, Hamlin’s car handling had improved and he came off pit road third behind Bowman and Wallace.

Overcoming early struggles

Hamlin continued to gain ground after the final round of green-flag pit stops before moving into second behind Wallace with 16 laps remaining.

“I’m just frustrated with the first half of the race. We just weren’t executing all that well. I’m really happy for our No. 11 Toyota team. They really stepped up the last half (of the race). We made the car quite a bit better,” Hamlin said.

“I'm just really happy with the outcome and really happy for the No. 45 and Bubba Wallace and Bootie (Barker, crew chief). Bubba has really worked on his craft. We’ve given him fast race cars and now he’s shown them what he’s got.”

Hamlin still leaves Kansas in good position in the Cup Series driver playoffs. He is third in the standings entering the final race of the first round next weekend at Bristol, Tenn.

With non-playoff drivers having won the first two of 10 playoff races, only one driver – Bell, is locked into the second round, based only on points.

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