Denny Hamlin resumed his NASCAR Xfinity Series mastery of Darlington Raceway on Saturday, winning the Sport Clips Haircuts VFW Help a Hero 200 to raise his victory total at the track to six.
Hamlin passed series leader Austin Hill after a Lap 147 restart that pushed the race one circuit into overtime. Parker Kligerman’s consequential spin off Sam Mayer’s bumper on Lap 141 brought out the seventh caution of the race and set up the final two-lap shootout.
“I really needed some long runs,” said Hamlin, who led 14 laps and didn’t make his move until the final stage. “But I didn’t really want to show everything that we had till the very end of the race there.
“We really did a good job of maintaining everything that we had.”
Hamlin, who was running his annual Xfinity Series race for Joe Gibbs Racing, picked up his 18th victory in the series. On Sunday, he starts his quest for the NASCAR Cup Series title in the Playoff-opening Cook Out Southern 500 (6 p.m. ET on USA, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
John Hunter Nemechek ran third after leading 99 laps and sweeping the first two stages. Cole Custer was fourth, followed by Josh Berry and Riley Herbst, who passed Parker Kligerman for the final Playoff-eligible position with one race left to decide the postseason field.
Herbst holds a one-point lead over Kligerman, who finished 24th after contact from Mayer’s No. 1 Chevrolet sent him spinning from the 12th position with six laps left in regulation.
Kligerman was not pleased with Mayer and said so after the race, especially since the driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet had overcome a slow pit stop and a brush with the outside wall to gain on Herbst.
“To come back from that and have to make a bunch of adjustments, then just get flat run over by the 1 car,” Kligerman said. “It’s so disappointing… He’s got to clean it up.”
Mayer, who finished 11th, took responsibility for the incident with the concise admission: “I effed up.”
On multiple occasions, Hill took the lead with quick work on pit road but couldn’t hold it through the restarts. Nevertheless, he leaves Darlington with a 23-point lead over Nemechek in the battle for the Xfinity regular-season championship.
“I just need to go back to the drawing board and figure out what I'm doing wrong on the restarts there, because that was really frustrating all day today,” Hill said. “It didn't matter where I was restarting, I would buzz the tires really bad and just lose track position every time I’d do it.
“So I got to do a better job of that if I'm going to win a championship. All in all, solid for us. That's kind of something that we've been preaching the last six races that if you can't be first, be second. If you can't be second, be third. We were second today, but it still stings a little bit when you want to win.”