Pit Stop Pushes Hamlin to Sprint All-Star Triumphby Jason Beck May 17, 2015 1 comment
Denny Hamlin won the battle and the war Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. After leading the field off pit road in the final segment of the 2015 Sprint All-Star race, Hamlin stormed to victory ahead of Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch to capture his first win in the non-points event.
The win was a team effort. In addition to a fast stop that boosted Hamlin from sixth to the lead in the final segment, his Joe Gibbs Racing pit crew also completed the quickest pit stop during qualifying, providing the No. 11 car the advantage of the coveted first pit stall.
Hamlin led early in the race’s first of five segments before falling into place in the top-five for most of the night. The Virginia driver credits his starting position in the final segment with his $1 million victory.
“The pit crew just knocked it out of the park; that was prime-time under pressure,” Hamlin said. “They won it, it was a total team effort.”
The win was the first All-Star triumph for Joe Gibbs racing in 23 years of fielding a car and the first victory in the race for Toyota. The team discovered Hamlin while running Late Model Stock Cars in Virginia and the Carolinas.
“Those guys gave me a chance and took a chance on me 11 or 12 years ago, and can’t believe we are in this position now,” he said. “It’s definitely my biggest win for sure … you know everybody brings the best of the best, and it is a shootout.”
Brad Keselowski was slotted to start second on the final restart, but was penalized for speeding on pit road. Kurt Busch restarted outside of Hamlin and spun his tires when the green flag flew, handing Hamlin a healthy lead.
Kevin Harvick made an effort to run down Hamlin in the closing laps, but was unable to make a pass.
“I’m not frustrated; I’ve been on the other side of this deal,” Harvick said. “It just depended on how everything shook out when they took off. Who spun the tires; who didn’t spin the tires. Denny sped them up quite a bit, then slowed them down and then took off way early.”
Hamlin said the key to holding off Harvick was a change in his driving line that made it harder to pass.
“The turning point for me was when we moved up to the middle of the race track,” he said. “I moved up and just changed lines, and for whatever reason when my car changed lines right there it just took off. There is something to be learned there for the 600.”
Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top five in the non-points event.
The race featured the return of Joe Gibbs driver Kyle Busch, who was injured in February during the Xfinity Series race at Daytona. Busch said his first time back on the track was smooth sailing.
“I’ll be sore for a couple of days, just muscles that haven’t been woken up like this in a little while,” he said. “It’s nothing new. Typically I get that in the beginning of the year anyway.
“As far as endurance goes for next week, I feel like I got out of the car after 100 laps and I’m fine,” he said. “The plan is to go the full distance.”
Though the All-Star Race at Charlotte is known for carnage and full-contact racing, Saturday night’s event was the eighth to run caution free. After 110 laps, all 20 drivers who started the race were still on track.