Late-race caution changes game in Darlington
After watching his teammate dominate the VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway on Friday night, Joey Logano led only four laps in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota en route to the race win after a green-white-checker finish, his second-straight victory in series competition.
"I had a little game plan under caution on how to win this thing," Logano said in victory lane.
Denny Hamlin finished second in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota after leading 103 laps of the race's 147-lap scheduled distance. Brad Keselowski was third in the No. 22 Penske Racing Dodge.
"We can't just keep dominating these races and not win them," a frustrated Hamlin said after the race.
I had a little game plan under caution on how to win this thing.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. started on the pole in the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, with Hamlin next to him on the front row. Stenhouse raced out to the lead at the start of the race and then again on the first restart after Ryan Blaney in the No. 36 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet brought out the first of six cautions in the race on lap two.
Hamlin got by Stenhouse to take the lead on lap 19 and didn't look back. He continued to hold down the top spot when he got off pit road during a caution on lap 38, but lost the lead to Logano on the restart. Hamlin got back by his teammate, though, to reassume his position up front just a few laps later.
On the next restart that followed a caution that came out on lap 46, Kurt Busch in the No. 54 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota went three-wide with Hamlin and Logano to take the lead. He held on to the top spot until lap 54 when Hamlin made his way back to the lead, again.
The race field cycled through green flag stops once during the race, with that cycle beginning on lap 91. By the time the cycle of stops were completed, Hamlin had a lead of over six seconds. That lead was erased with 21 laps to go when Busch smacked the wall right after being passed by Logano for the second position.
Not only did Hamlin lose his six-second cushion, he lost the lead entirely to Elliott Sadler in the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. Sadler got off pit road first during the caution by taking only two tires.
Sadler was able to hold off Hamlin and Logano, who were each on four new tires, until another caution came out a few laps later, with 11 laps remaining with Brendan Gaughan had a tire go down and hit the wall in his No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.
On the restart that followed, both Logano and Hamlin made contact with Sadler, sending Sadler hard into the wall and bringing out the caution for the fifth time, creating a green-white-checker scenario with Hamlin in the lead and Logano alongside in second.
"He was just bump drafting me, trying to give me some help," Sadler said. "I understand what he was trying to do, but you don't just bump draft everywhere you go."
Logano accepted responsibility for the incident.
"That was obviously not on purpose," Logano said, and then offered an apology.
Logano took the lead on the final restart and sailed on to the win.
"We lost a cylinder," Hamlin said. "The water temperature went pegged and everything and we lost a cylinder. That's the way it goes."
Sam Hornish Jr. finished fourth in the No. 12 Penske Racing Dodge, and Austin Dillon was fifth in the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. Sadler wound up outside the top-20 in 24th.