Fresh tires propel Hamlin to XFINITY win in Charlotte

By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service

CONCORD, N.C. – In an event that bore notable similarities to the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race a week earlier, Denny Hamlin won Saturday’s Hisense 300 NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway with a pass on the final lap.

Hamlin’s fresh rubber trumped the old tires of Kyle Larson and Joey Logano, who restarted ahead of Hamlin in overtime at the 1.5-mile track.

In fact, Hamlin restarted sixth on Lap 205 after coming to pit road for four new tires under the eighth and final caution of the race, brought out when polesitter Erik Jones, Hamlin’s teammate, slammed the outside wall and performed the coup de grace on his already wounded No. 20 Toyota.

“It was a second opportunity, obviously,” Hamlin said. “I was hoping for that caution there at the end, and we got it and we were able to get four tires on this Hisense Camry and took off. A little closer than what I thought – I mean, we were just really tight those last couple laps, but what a great day.”

The victory was Hamlin’s first of the year in his only start so far, and it was the fifth this season for the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, the first four coming with Kyle Busch behind the wheel.

Logano surged ahead of Larson at the restart, but Hamlin gained huge momentum on his new tires from the outside lane. With less than a lap left, Hamlin got past Logano and held on to win the race by .291 seconds over Austin Dillon, who edged Logano for second in the final corner.

Dillon had opted for right-side tires only on his final pit stop.

But for a timely caution, however, Hamlin would not have had the opportunity to win the race. As they had done a week earlier in the All-Star race, Larson and Logano swapped the lead, with Logano powering past Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet on lap 166 of a scheduled 200, and Larson regaining the top spot with five laps left in regulation.

But when Jones slammed into the wall on Lap 199, Hamlin had the chance to come to pit road for tires under caution, while Larson and Logano stayed out to preserve their track position.

With just two cars up front on old tires, as had been the case for the final restart in the All-Star race, Hamlin made short work of the cars in front of him.

It was the third last-lap pass for the win in the XFINITY Series this season.

Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gayle conferred before the final pit stop and ultimately opted for the fresh rubber.

“It was a collaborative call,” Hamlin said. “He (Gayle) leaned towards staying out, but I thought that I could get around those guys in just two laps even though we were way faster on that last run. I thought tires were the thing.

“I knew if I could start on the outside that I wanted new tires and it just worked out on pit road where I came out on the outside. It all worked out and it was very exciting in that last corner, a little more exciting than what I expected.”

Hamlin desperately needed the final caution because his No. 18 team had drawn a penalty for an uncontrolled tire on a pit stop under yellow on Lap 160.

Hamlin restarted mid-pack instead of at the rear of the field as the violation requires, because according to NASCAR, the cars at the rear of the field failed to pass Hamlin’s No. 18 Camry before the green flag waved on Lap 164.

Hamlin said he left a large buffer for the laps-down car to pass him before the restart, but that they declined to do so.

By the time Jones hit the wall, Hamlin had driven to third place, trailing only Larson and Logano.

The similarities to the finish of the All-Star Race were not lost on Logano.

“I thought it was kind of supposed to be like what the All-Star Race was with old tires and new tires, but the (my car) was the fastest it’s been all year,” Logano said. “We can’t hold our heads down about it. We had a car that was capable of winning if circumstances went right. I felt like I was going have a good restart next to Kyle.

“I felt my restarts were a little better than his all day, and I thought, ‘OK, if I can clear him,’ which we did I was like, ‘Alright, we’ve got a shot,’ but it was really hard to hold off those four tires. What a fun race. It got really exciting there at the end. I got passed on the top by Denny and then Kyle just kept ripping up top and had a big run into the corner, so it was fun to watch that. I was hoping they would get into each other, and I would sneak one out.”

NASCAR XFINITY Series Race – Hisense 4K TV 300
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Concord, North Carolina
Saturday, May 28, 2016

1. (3) Denny Hamlin(i), Toyota, 206.
2. (4) Austin Dillon(i), Chevrolet, 206.
3. (7) Joey Logano(i), Ford, 206.
4. (11) Cole Custer(i), Chevrolet, 206.
5. (8) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 206.
6. (5) Kyle Larson(i), Chevrolet, 206.
7. (12) Brandon Jones #, Chevrolet, 206.
8. (10) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 206.
9. (14) Brennan Poole #, Chevrolet, 206.
10. (17) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 206.
11. (27) Jeb Burton, Ford, 206.
12. (2) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 206.
13. (19) Ryan Sieg, Chevrolet, 206.
14. (18) Blake Koch, Chevrolet, 206.
15. (31) Garrett Smithley #, Chevrolet, 206.
16. (13) Ryan Blaney(i), Ford, 205.
17. (16) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 205.
18. (20) Drew Herring, Toyota, 205.
19. (15) Ryan Reed, Ford, 204.
20. (21) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 204.
21. (23) Dakoda Armstrong, Toyota, 204.
22. (26) Ryan Preece #, Chevrolet, 203.
23. (25) JJ Yeley, Toyota, 203.
24. (40) Harrison Rhodes, Chevrolet, 203.
25. (30) BJ McLeod #, Ford, 202.
26. (35) Martin Roy, Chevrolet, 202.
27. (9) Darrell Wallace Jr., Ford, 201.
28. (6) Elliott Sadler, Chevrolet, 200.
29. (22) Spencer Gallagher(i), Chevrolet, 200.
30. (34) Carl Long, Toyota, 200.
31. (1) Erik Jones #, Toyota, Accident, 197.
32. (37) Derrike Cope, Chevrolet, 183.
33. (36) Timmy Hill(i), Chevrolet, Suspension, 130.
34. (29) Jeff Green, Toyota, Fuel Pump, 127.
35. (38) Mike Harmon, Dodge, Accident, 91.
36. (33) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, Transmission, 84.
37. (32) Ray Black Jr. #, Chevrolet, Oil Line, 27.
38. (39) Cody Ware #, Ford, Accident, 12.
39. (28) Josh Wise(i), Chevrolet, Rear Gear, 5.
40. (24) Matt DiBenedetto(i), Toyota, Vibration, 3.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 114.515 mph.
Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 41 Mins, 54 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.291 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 8 for 54 laps.
Lead Changes: 21 among 10 drivers.
Lap Leaders: E. Jones # 1-13; D. Hamlin(i) 14-15; E. Jones # 16; J. Green 17; D. Hamlin(i) 18-49; K. Larson(i) 50-54; D. Wallace Jr. 55-59; R. Chastain 60; D. Hamlin(i) 61-97; K. Larson(i) 98-111; R. Blaney(i) 112-113; C. Custer(i) 114; D. Suarez 115-116; D. Hamlin(i) 117-120; J. Logano(i) 121-147; K. Larson(i) 148-159; J. Logano(i) 160; K. Larson(i) 161-165; J. Logano(i) 166-194; K. Larson(i) 195-204; J. Logano(i) 205; D. Hamlin(i) 206;.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): D. Hamlin(i) 5 times for 76 laps; J. Logano(i) 4 times for 58 laps; K. Larson(i) 5 times for 46 laps; E. Jones # 2 times for 14 laps; D. Wallace Jr. 1 time for 5 laps; D. Suarez 1 time for 2 laps; R. Blaney(i) 1 time for 2 laps; J. Green 1 time for 1 lap; C. Custer(i) 1 time for 1 lap; R. Chastain 1 time for 1 lap.
Top 10 in Points: D. Suarez – 376; E. Sadler – 362; J. Allgaier – 353; T. Dillon – 352; B. Gaughan – 336; B. Jones # – 324; E. Jones # – 320; B. Poole # – 314; D. Wallace Jr. – 283; R. Reed – 266.