Denny Hamlin gets dominating-but-serendipitous win at Darlington

Denny Hamlin celebrates his win in the NASCAR XFINITY Series VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200 at Darlington Raceway on September 5, 2015 in Darlington, South Carolina.

Denny Hamlin celebrates his win in the NASCAR XFINITY Series VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200 at Darlington Raceway on September 5, 2015 in Darlington, South Carolina.

DARLINGTON, S.C. – You could call polesitter Denny Hamlin’s victory in Saturday’s VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 at Darlington Raceway “dominating,” but the NASCAR XFINITY Series event wasn’t without its share of drama—courtesy of a fuel shortage and Hamlin’s own Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Daniel Suarez.

Hamlin Led 117 of 147 laps at the 1.366-mile speedway, but he didn’t make the winning pass until Lap 145, when he surged past Suarez, who was stretching fuel after foregoing a final pit stop in hopes of stealing the victory.

The win was Hamlin’s third of the season (all from the pole), his fourth at Darlington (all from the pole) and the 14th of his career.

In a 1-2-3 finish for JGR, Kyle Busch got past Suarez, who finished third, to start the final circuit and came home in the runner-up position. But Suarez secured a $100,000 bonus as the top finisher among eligible series regulars in the final XFINITY Dash 4 Cash event of the season.

Suarez also won $100,000 for a Kurt Kolstad, a race fan paired with Suarez for the Dash 4 Cash finale.

When Hamlin brought his No. 20 Toyota to pit road under caution on Lap 72, he returned to the track after a lightning fast stop during which his team left the fuel cell slightly short of a full load.

That meant Hamlin would have to pit before his primary pursuers, Busch and Kevin Harvick, and hope the race would run caution-free for the entire cycle of stops.

Hamlin got his wish. After pitting on Lap 122 and gaining time on fresh tires, a relieved Hamlin saw the race run caution-free to the end, giving him just enough time to catch Suarez, who was saving fuel on old rubber, before the laps ran out.

“I’m almost glad we didn’t (get the car full of fuel),” Hamlin said after the race. “We didn’t want a caution to fall and trap us there, but I had scraped the wall and kind of misjudged my line one time and got a little right-side damage, and the car just stopped turning.

“I don’t know if the right side would have made it or not (under the pressure of all-out racing).”

Harvick led 16 laps and finished fourth, his chances thwarted when the race ran green to the finish.

“The 9 (Chase Elliott) hit the wall or was blowing up or something, and we stayed out a few extra laps, thinking that the caution was going to come out, and got a little bit behind, “ Harvick said.

“The 20 (Hamlin) had the best car. We were better in the long run—we could run him back down and race with him, but on the short run, those guys were a little bit better than we were.”

Chris Buescher ran fifth and extended his series lead to 29 points over Ty Dillon, who finished 15th, and 35 over Elliott, who came home 24th, three laps down, after his engine soured late in the race.

Joey Logano, Kyle Larson, Landon Cassill, Regan Smith and Ross Chastain completed the top 10.

NASCAR XFINITY Series Race – VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200
Darlington Raceway
Darlington, South Carolina
Saturday, September 05, 2015

1. (1) Denny Hamlin(i), Toyota, 147, $53679.
2. (36) Kyle Busch(i), Toyota, 147, $32435.
3. (2) Daniel Suarez #, Toyota, 147, $32251.
4. (9) Kevin Harvick(i), Chevrolet, 147, $21878.
5. (10) Chris Buescher, Ford, 147, $28698.
6. (4) Joey Logano(i), Ford, 147, $18464.
7. (3) Kyle Larson(i), Chevrolet, 147, $17790.
8. (19) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 147, $23854.
9. (8) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 147, $23555.
10. (14) Ross Chastain #, Chevrolet, 147, $24227.
11. (24) Elliott Sadler, Ford, 147, $23099.
12. (12) Brian Scott, Chevrolet, 146, $23024.
13. (6) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 146, $22973.
14. (15) Darrell Wallace Jr. #, Ford, 146, $22922.
15. (13) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 146, $23271.
16. (11) JJ Yeley, Toyota, 146, $22745.
17. (18) Ryan Sieg, Chevrolet, 146, $22694.
18. (26) Dakoda Armstrong, Ford, 146, $22643.
19. (21) Cale Conley #, Toyota, 146, $22593.
20. (16) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 145, $23017.
21. (20) Parker Kligerman, Chevrolet, 145, $22666.
22. (25) David Starr, Toyota, 145, $22410.
23. (17) Ryan Reed, Ford, 145, $22359.
24. (7) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 144, $23284.
25. (5) Paul Menard(i), Chevrolet, 144, $16156.
26. (23) John Wes Townley(i), Chevrolet, 144, $22157.
27. (22) Blake Koch, Toyota, 143, $22106.
28. (33) Eric McClure, Toyota, 142, $22031.
29. (28) Todd Bodine, Chevrolet, 141, $21995.
30. (32) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 141, $22254.
31. (31) BJ McLeod(i), Chevrolet, 138, $21899.
32. (30) Derrike Cope, Chevrolet, 134, $21854.
33. (35) Harrison Rhodes #, Chevrolet, Vibration, 83, $21828.
34. (38) Mike Harmon, Dodge, Suspension, 82, $21807.
35. (34) Morgan Shepherd, Chevrolet, Brakes, 34, $15550.
36. (27) TJ Bell(i), Toyota, Clutch, 23, $14039.
37. (37) Carlos Contreras, Chevrolet, Accident, 10, $19245.
38. (29) Jeff Green, Toyota, Suspension, 6, $12039.
39. (39) Carl Long, Dodge, Suspension, 4, $11039.
40. (40) Ryan Ellis(i), Ford, Suspension, 1, $10039.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  141.355 mph.
Time of Race:  01 Hrs, 25 Mins, 14 Secs. Margin of Victory:  2.058 Seconds.
Caution Flags:  2 for 8 laps.
Lead Changes:  7 among 3 drivers.
Lap Leaders:   D. Hamlin(i) 1-29; K. Harvick(i) 30-34; D. Hamlin(i) 35-48; K. Harvick(i) 49-50; D. Hamlin(i) 51-121; K. Harvick(i) 122-130; D. Suarez # 131-144; D. Hamlin(i) 145-147.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  D. Hamlin(i) 4 times for 117 laps; K. Harvick(i) 3 times for 16 laps; D. Suarez # 1 time for 14 laps.
Top 10 in Points: C. Buescher – 874; T. Dillon – 845; C. Elliott – 839; R. Smith – 820; E. Sadler – 783; D. Wallace Jr. # – 766; D. Suarez # – 759; B. Scott – 755; B. Gaughan – 736; R. Reed – 652.

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