Hamlin rallies to win in first round of playoffs

Denny Hamlin prepares to eat a Chicago style hot dog in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Chicagoland Speedway, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015, in Joliet, Ill. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

JOLIET, Ill. (AP) – Denny Hamlin gave Joe Gibbs Racing a victory in the opening round of NASCAR’s playoffs by rallying from a disastrous start at Chicagoland Speedway.

Hamlin spun on the second lap Sunday and immediately fell a lap off the pace. He and his JGR team didn’t panic, then used a gutsy call not to pit during the final caution to give Hamlin a shot at the victory.

He jumped from third to first on the restart with five laps remaining, and has now earned an automatic spot in the second round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

In far worse position is reigning Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick, who hit the wall during the race and finished 42nd. He’s now ranked last in the 16-driver field.

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