Hamlin Delivers, Wins All-Star Race

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The Deliverminator, as some call Denny Hamlin, lived up to his nickname on Saturday evening, winning his first career Sprint All-Star Race and getting Joe Gibbs Racing its first win in the race as a team.  But it was his pit crew that was the talk of the evening.

All-Star qualifying is different from all other races, as the driver gets a warm-up lap, comes barreling down pit road at 150 MPH, slows down to stop in their pit stall, the pit crew changes four tires, the driver speeds off and completes the lap.  Whoever has the fastest overall time wins the pole for the race, and this year, it was Hamlin and the No. 11 FedEx team who won the pole, and eventually, won $1 million.

Kevin Harvick finished second for the second consecutive season.  He had the freshest tires out of all drivers up front, as he took four tires after the fourth segment (mandatory pit stop followed) and ended up driving up to second place.  He was running the middle lane and catching Hamlin, but with three laps remaining in the final 10 lap segment, the No. 11 slid up to take the air off Harvick’s nose and set sail into the sunset.

“It was more defense than anything, but it turned into offense for me,” Hamlin said in his post-race interview.  “He [Harvick] kept getting closer and closer, and eventually he gets to that right rear quarter panel, and your race is done.  Initially, I was looking in my mirror, and I knew it was going to be a defensive move to take his line.  But I was just going to have to do something different, because I was starting to lose time.  My laps time were dropping off, and I just had to do something different to try to salvage a win, and that was obviously the key move for us.”

But Harvick and Kurt Busch, who finished third and restarted second for the final segment, added that they thought Hamlin jumped the restart zone by a wide margin.  Regardless, he was the one in victory lane, but Harvick talked about how Hamlin did what he needed to do.

“I had committed to the center of the corner and just really lost the front of the car up the race track, had to get out of the throttle,” Harvick explained post-race.  “As soon as Denny moved up that one time it kind of took the air off.  Once I got to the middle of the corner the car just washed all the way up the race track and I had to lift way out of the gas to get the car back off the wall.”

Another second place finish for Harvick, but him and Crew Chief Rodney Childers were very excited to bring the same racecar back this upcoming weekend to race in the Coca Cola 600.

Kasey Kahne took the lead on lap 15 and won segment one handily. Brad Keselowski played strategy and won segments two and three and Busch won segment four.

For the fifth and final segment, drivers were repositioned based on average finishes in the first four segments.  Keselowski was nabbed for speeding coming off pit road trying to pass Hamlin (whose pit crew got him back out front and eventually got the win).

“I knew that was the race, and I went for it,” Keselowski said.

At least he went down swinging.  With no points on the line, why not?

Some other notable finishes included Keselowski in ninth, his Team Penske teammate Joey Logano in eighth, Jeff Gordon fourth, Matt Kenseth fifth, Kyle Busch sixth in his first NSCS race back from injury and Kahne seventh.

Kahne’s HMS teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson finished 10th and 15th, respectively. Johnson’s team was not penalized, but warned for flaring the side skirts on his No. 48 car during the race.

Tony Stewart finished 19th, Danica Patrick 20th after winning the Sprint Fan Vote but blowing an engine, Greg Biffle 13th and Clint Bowyer 12th after winning both segments of the Sprint Showdown to transfer to the big race.

In the Xfinity Series at Iowa Speedway on Sunday afternoon, Chris Buescher got his second career win after Chase Elliott, who had the fastest car all afternoon, was a sitting duck after staying out when everybody else pitted for tires.  He eventually finished in second place.

The finish, which was spectacular, had drivers and fans alike calling for a Sprint Cup race at Iowa.  It’s been talked about for years, but now it’s becoming a real possibility, as the defending champion, Harvick, is on record as saying the Cup series needs a schedule shake-up and that he loves Iowa Speedway.

The Camping World Truck Series race was even better on Friday evening at Charlotte Motor Speedway.  Kahne ended up beating Erik Jones to the finish line by inches (0.004 seconds) to win in his No. 00 truck for JR Motorsports.  Jones, who was visibly frustrated after the race, which he dominated for the second week in a row in the NCWTS, also put on a show in the NXS race, coming from the back of the pack to finish in the top five.  Like it or not, the young guns are taking the sport by storm.

The next race on the schedule for the Cup guys and gal (hey Danica) is the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, the longest race of the season.  It’s a test of endurance, speed, strategy and everything in between.  It shouldn’t disappoint, as usual.