Staying out on old tires while other contenders came to the pits under caution on Lap 123, Hamlin held off teammate Kyle Busch, who also stayed out, to win Friday night's Royal Purple 200 at Darlington Raceway.
Hamlin led the final 63 of 147 laps in winning his 10th race in the Nationwide Series in his second start of the year. On Saturday night, he'll start eighth in the Showtime Southern 500 Sprint Cup race.
"Great race car," Hamlin said in Victory Lane. "Congratulations to [crew chief] Kevin Kidd. This is his first win with Joe Gibbs Racing after taking over for Dave Rogers. When you have a car that drives as good as this one did [Friday], it makes your job a whole lot easier."
Busch had a strong car but couldn't pass Hamlin on a succession of restarts late in the race. Busch pulled even with Hamlin to the inside entering Turn 1 on a restart with five laps to go, but Hamlin had momentum around the outside and gradually inched away to win by .625 seconds.
"If you don't get out first after the last pit stop, you're stuck," Busch said. "You just can't pass out there. It's just so aero-sensitive. You fight for track position here. That's all you can do. Tires don't mean a whole lot, but track position does."
All told, Hamlin led 111 laps and Busch 17. Jamie McMurray finished third, followed by Kasey Kahne and Jason Leffler. Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Brian Vickers and Paul Menard completed the top 10.
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 20 Z-Line Designs/Operation Helmet Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing Finishing Position: 1st
How good was your car tonight?
“This was a great race car. Congratulations to Kevin Kidd (crew chief), this is his first win at Joe Gibbs Racing, taking over for Dave Rogers. Me and Dave (Rogers) did, I think, a pretty good job building this program over the last three to four years and a lot of credit goes to Dave. He’s moved on and had some success but now it’s time for Kevin (Kidd) to show what he’s got. He gave me a great race car. It was that easy. When you have a car that drives as good as it did today, it makes your job a whole lot easier. I gotta thank Monica Sexton (Z-Line Designs), we won the competition with Kyle (Busch). Everyone at Z-Line Designs, Toyota, FedEx, WileyX, Gillette, everyone from Nationwide Insurance for helping put this on."
What is the Z-Line Designs ‘Operation Helmet?
“We’re giving away after-market padding for the helmets — the stock stuff is pretty hard and pretty tough on the guys out there. We wanted to make their jobs easy as possible. We’re donating all that stuff for free. I gotta thank Joe Gibbs oils as well. They help us with a lot of stuff in a lot of races."
What does it mean to win on Mother’s Day Weekend?
“It’s special, that’s for sure. I don’t consider myself a very good Nationwide driver, and to get a win like this on Mother’s Day. She’s my number one fan. She’s always at every single souvenir hauler. She’s a big Twitter fanatic, like I am. Everyone can keep up through with what I’m doing through her or myself. She’s just having so much fun. My parents sacrificed a lot when I was growing up. They didn’t get to take vacations or buy any nice cars because they were busy building me good race cars. Now they get to live the life that they should."
How tough was it to battle Kyle Busch on the late-race restarts?
“Kyle (Busch) is so good on restarts, it’s hard to hold him off. I knew that if I could just hold him off for one lap, we could clear him. He gave us a run for our money. It’s so hard on this race track to run two-wide, especially that first corner, but me and him made it work. I talked to him over the radio. I said,
‘Is this the new Kyle, or the old Kyle?
“It depends on which one is gonna race me. Kevin Kidd’s (crew chief) first win with this race team, and everyone from Z-Line Designs."
How does it feel to run for a team so competitive in the Nationwide Series?
“Up until I’d say probably three years ago when Joe Gibbs Racing Nationwide Series their teams really hit their stride, we also went 10 years with no wins. We watched RCR do this same thing for five or six years. This was the work of myself and Dave (Rogers) and a lot of guys with that Nationwide program. The way we’re running now has to do with the work we’ve done three or four years ago and helped build this program into what it is. And now it’s up to Kevin (Kidd, 20 crew chief) and Jason (Ratcliff, 18 crew chief) to keep that going. And that’s the hardest part. Once you get onto just trying to stay onto. They’ve got the task of doing that and this year obviously they’ve shown that they can step up to the plate. As myself and Joey (Logano) and Kyle (Busch) expect to get in the best race cars once we get in them and that’s what makes it a lot of fun to get into the Nationwide Series cars. When we step in this 18 or 20 car we know we’ve got the best stuff."
KEVIN KIDD, crew chief, No. 20 Z-Line Designs/Operation Helmet Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
How good does it feel to get your first Nationwide Series win?
“It’s just an overwhelming feeling right now to be able to go to victory lane and particularly to do it at a place like this. It has as much history in it with great crew chiefs and great drivers who have been to victory lane here. I’m just proud to be a part of that now."
KYLE BUSCH, No. 18 Z-Line Designs/Racing for Kids Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing Finishing Position: 2nd
How was your run tonight?
“It was alright. We had really, really fast race car. Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) and the guys did a great job. I think we were a little bit better than what the 20 (Denny Hamlin) was but it just shows how pivotal clean air is. He was out-front all night. He even took two tires there on that caution when we took four and we got behind on track position a little bit. We passed our way up through there and thought we were going to run them down and just kept getting tight behind lap cars and then started just maintaining pace with Denny but was never able to gain anymore on him. That last restart there through one and two we had a good restart actually. Him (Denny Hamlin) being on the outside and for as close as you race around each other around this place you can get sucked around so easily. I knew better of it than to wreck both of our cars to just roll out a little bit out of turn two and fend for myself down the backstretch with the 88 (Jamie McMurray). Fortunately I was able to keep second. It just feels really, really bad that you can’t pass here."
How frustrating was this race?
“That’s what this place is. It can really, really frustrate you very fast because you’re racing your guts out and sometimes can’t pass people. It’s tough on drivers. It’s tough on equipment, especially. I’m just proud of the fact that we came out of here without a mark on the car tonight so that was good. I think we were going to take this one to Charlotte so that will be good for us and unfortunately we had a rough day on the Cup side, but whatever polesitter."
Were you confident in your decision not to pit on that second to last caution?
“If you don’t get out-front after the last pit stop you’re stuck. That’s it. You’re stuck and you couldn’t pass. Denny (Hamlin) was good, don’t get me wrong. He had a very fast race car as well as we did. You just can’t pass at this race track. It’s so aero sensitive. You get stuck behind people. We saw it last year with Mark Martin. He came with the lead off pit road on the last pit stop in the Cup race, led the last 40 or 45 laps or whatever it was — tomorrow night is going to be fun."
Did you have doubts about that call to stay out after you did it?
“I had doubts about it. Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) and I were talking back and forth. Jason wanted to pit. He said, ‘Let’s come.’ And he didn’t say if the 20 (Denny Hamlin) stays out or if he comes. He didn’t say regardless the point. So we kind of had a little miscommunication there. When I saw the 20 stay out I thought, ‘I’m going to stay out.’ Then when I saw as many guys come behind us I was like, ‘Oh, that was the wrong call. We’re going to get run over here. These guys are going to come and get us.’ But our cars were really fast tonight, but on the other part they were really fast on restarts. The tires kind of came back pretty quick and you could get back going pretty well. It’s hard to race that fast around this race track that close together and not wreck, but I guess I thought better or wrecking and finishing second tonight."
|1||1||20||Denny Hamlin||Toyota||Z-Line Designs / Operation Helmet||195/10||147||Running|
|2||2||18||Kyle Busch||Toyota||Z-Line Designs / Racing for Kids||175/5||147||Running|
|4||15||38||Kasey Kahne||Toyota||Great Clips||165/5||147||Running|
|5||12||10||Jason Leffler||Toyota||ABF Freight||155/0||147||Running|
|7||3||22||Brad Keselowski||Dodge||Ruby Tuesday||146/0||147||Running|
|8||7||33||Kevin Harvick||Chevrolet||Rheem / Ruud||142/0||147||Running|
|9||17||32||Brian Vickers||Toyota||Dollar General||138/0||147||Running|
|10||16||98||Paul Menard||Ford||Richmond Water Heaters / Menards||134/0||147||Running|
|11||29||15||Michael Annett||Toyota||Pilot Travel Centers / Germain.com||130/0||147||Running|
|12||27||66||Steve Wallace||Toyota||5-Hour Energy||127/0||147||Running|
|13||40||01||Mike Wallace||Chevrolet||One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning||129/5||147||Running|
|14||28||41||Stanton Barrett||Chevrolet||Kids Embrace Car Seats||126/5||147||Running|
|15||18||23||Coleman Pressley||Chevrolet||R3 Motorsports||118/0||147||Running|
|16||9||99||Trevor Bayne||Toyota||Diamond Waltrip Racing||115/0||147||Running|
|17||6||12||Justin Allgaier||Dodge||Verizon Wireless||117/5||147||Running|
|18||34||34||Tony Raines||Chevrolet||Long John Silver's||109/0||147||Running|
|20||32||28||Kenny Wallace||Chevrolet||AAA Parking / Royal Purple Lubricants||103/0||147||Running|
|22||19||70||Mark Green||Chevrolet||Royal Purple Lubricants||97/0||147||Running|
|24||36||26||Brian Keselowski||Dodge||K-Automotive Motorsports||91/0||147||Running|
|25||13||11||Brian Scott *||Toyota||AccuDoc Solutions||88/0||145||Running|
|26||37||107||Danny Efland||Chevrolet||C3i Sports / Americans Honoring Americans||85/0||145||Running|
|27||41||24||Eric McClure||Ford||Hefty Odorblock||82/0||145||Running|
|28||42||09||Chad McCumbee||Ford||The GPS Store / Garmin||79/0||144||Running|
|29||21||7||Steve Arpin||Chevrolet||JR Motorsports||76/0||138||In Pit|
|31||26||1||James Buescher *||Chevrolet||Andre Bauer for Governor||70/0||93||Running|
|32||25||40||Mike Bliss||Chevrolet||Westerman Companies||67/0||89||Running|
|33||11||62||Brendan Gaughan||Toyota||South Point Hotel & Casino||64/0||84||Running|
|34||33||61||Josh Wise||Ford||Ride to The Rock for Autism||61/0||81||Running|
|35||8||27||Greg Biffle||Ford||Red Man Moist Snuff||58/0||79||Running|
|36||23||43||Scott Lagasse Jr.||Ford||American Red Cross||55/0||74||Running|
|37||14||6||Ricky Stenhouse Jr. *||Ford||Roush Fenway Racing||52/0||64||Running|
|38||31||156||Kevin Lepage||Chevrolet||Mac Hill Motorsports||49/0||39||Running|
|40||22||90||Danny O'Quinn Jr.||Chevrolet||D'Hondt Humphrey Motorsports||48/5||30||Running|
|41||24||91||David Gilliland||Chevrolet||D'Hondt Humphrey Motorsports||40/0||29||Running|
|43||43||92||Dennis Setzer||Dodge||K-Automotive Motorsports||34/0||11||Running|
* Denotes Rookie