By AMANDA VINCENT
Denny Hamlin’s win of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday night produced several firsts. It was the first All-Star win for Hamlin, the first for Joe Gibbs Racing, and also the first for Toyota.
“Everyone worked hard for this win,” crew chief Dave Rogers said. “I’m so proud to be a part of this team.”
Kevin Harvick finished second after starting the 20 car/driver race in the last spot. His Stewart-Haas Racing teammate was third, Jeff Gordon fourth, and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top-five.
“What a great night for the Haas Automation Chevy,” Busch said. “We won a segment but not the right one. I don’t know why we’re standing here in third. I thought we were a better can than that.”
Hamlin started on the pole in the 110-lap (four 25-lap segments, followed by a 10-lap sprint to the finish) from the pole and led early before Kasey Kahne took the lead and ran up front the remainder of the first segment.
Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. started the second segment on row one after taking only two tires during pit stops between segments. While Earnhardt drifted back when the race restarted, Keselowski remained up front to lead all but one lap of the second 25-lap segment. Busch took second early and then battled Keselowski for the lead throughout the segment, taking the lead for one lap.
Jamie McMurray used a two-tire strategy to start the third segment up front but gave up the lead to Keselowski. By the end of the third segment, Keselowski had led 41 laps. Between the third and fourth segments, Keselowski gave up the top-two spots to Matt Kenseth and Hamlin, who took only two tires for track position. When the race restarted, Hamlin retook the lead, and Busch moved up to second.
Hamlin led a few laps before losing the top spot to Busch. Keselowski ran second for a time before Harvick moved up to second, putting two Stewart-Haas drivers in the first two positions for the end of the fourth segment.
The running order was reset by NASCAR at the end of the fourth segment, reflecting drivers’ average finishing orders from each of the first four segments prior to mandatory four-tire pit stops and the 10-lap final segment.
Keselowski, as a result, got the first position but lost it by speeding on pit road.
“I knew when I came out of my pit stall and the 11 (Hamlin) was pulling out with me that I either beat him to that line or lose the race, and the penalty was that I was 0.3 mph over the speed limit, but I dold my crew chief I’d rather go down swinging than take a strike and wonder what might have been,” Keselowski said.
Hamlin was moved back to sixth but his crew got him off first for the final restart with a four-tire, no-fuel, 10.4-second pit stop.
“That’s all there is to it,” Hamlin said. That pit crew did an amazing job. The number one pit stall also helped us. I knew it was fast when they went over to the left side.”
Hamlin was able to run up front the rest of the way with Harvick in his rearview. He had a hard time shaking Harvick through most of the final 10 laps before finally pulling out to win by a margin of 0.923 seconds.
“I moved up and changed lines, and when I changed lines, the car just took off,” Hamlin said.
Aside from the yellow flags that separated segments, the race ran caution-free for the first time since 2008.
Full finishing order of the Sprint All-Star Race:
1. Denny Hamlin (No. 20 Toyota)
2. Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Chevrolet)
3. Kurt Busch (No. 41 Chevrolet)
4. Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Chevrolet)
5. Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Toyota)
6. Kyle Busch (No. 18 Toyota)
7. Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Chevrolet)
8. Joey Logano (No. 22 Ford)
9. Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Ford)
10. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Chevrolet)
11. A.J. Allmendinger (No. 47 Chevrolet)
12. Clint Bowyer (No. 15 Toyota)
13. Greg Biffle (No. 16 Ford)
14. Aric Almirola (No. 43 Ford)
15. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Chevrolet)
16. Jamie McMurray (No. 1 Chevrolet)
17. Carl Edwards (No. 19 Toyota)
18. Ryan Newman (No. 31 Chevrolet)
19. Tony Stewart (No. 14 Chevrolet)
20. Danica Patrick (No. 10 Chevrolet)
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