Denny Hamlin’s pit crew won him the pole for Saturday night’s Sprint All-Star Race. However, it was Hamlin who won the race, and gained a $1 million bonus.
The finishes of the first four segments were put together to record a final average finish entering the fifth and final segment. Hamlin’s average finish was sixth out of the 20 competitors in the Sprint All-Star Race. Much like qualifying, it was his all-star pit crew who gained him five positions in the pits and he came out the leader.
The final 10 laps went to Hamlin, as he pulled away from Kevin Harvick in the final four laps to win his first ever Sprint All Star-Race.
“You want to win the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400 and the Coca-Cola 600, so I can’t say enough about this FedEx Express team,” Hamlin said in disbelief. “It is just a big day. This is just an unbelievable experience. But that pit-crew, that is all I can say. They won us this race. We’ll keep that money for my daughter’s college fund.”
For much of the first four segments, it was Brad Keselowski who was the dominant car. However, after coming out of the pits in the second position following the last pit-stop, Keselowski was caught speeding as he was trying to get out ahead of Hamlin.
“Whoever gets the clean air with this rule package is going to drive away and win the race,” said Keselowski. “I knew that when the No. 11 was coming out, I either beat him to that line or I lose the race. I swung and I missed.”
Harvick ran much of the race high, wide and handsome. And after starting shotgun on the field, heading into the final segment, he had the fourth best average finish. He came out third in the pits, but came up just short of his second-career Sprint All-Star Race victory.
“He saw us coming there and I was really good in the middle lane but I needed all of the aero on the front of the car especially pushing in the end,” said a disappointed Harvick. “My car just took off and I lost all of the ground that I made up.”
The rest of the top-five consisted of Kurt Busch, who won segment four and looked to have one of the best overall cars. Jeff Gordon finished fourth in his 22nd and final All-Star Race. And former All-Star winner Matt Kenseth wound up fifth on the night.
It was the driver who finished sixth that was the story of the weekend.
Kyle Busch strapped into his Toyota for the first time since his devastating injury that occurred in the XFINITY Series at Daytona. Though he qualified 19th on the night, it didn’t take long for Busch to prove that he is back.
He had to overcome a lot of adversity as the driver of the No. 18 fell a lap down in the third segment after pitting for a loose wheel. Busch muscled his way back to record a decent finish and learned a lot for next weekends Coca-Cola 600.
“I wish I would have beat my teammate for fifth,” said a smiling Busch. “We had a great race tonight. It’s really good for us. I was comfortable in the car and its definitely progress for the 600 next weekend.”
What did we learn for the Coca-Cola 600?
Clean air will be everything. In every segment except the first, the leader pulled away and led the entire distance. Though tonight was just over a fourth of what next Sunday’s race will be, you can expect to see much of the same thing. Pit stops will be critical, and it proved that way on Saturday evening.
It will be interesting to see if the drivers who ran up front for much of the All-Star Race will be there next weekend in racings longest race of the year.