IT'S HAMLIN...MAKE THAT ALMIROLA IN THE AT&T 250 West Allis, Wis., (June 23)--Just when you think you have seen it all, along comes a race like the AT&T 250 NASCAR Busch Series race Saturday night at The Milwaukee Mile. A strange...
IT'S HAMLIN...MAKE THAT ALMIROLA IN THE AT&T 250
West Allis, Wis., (June 23)--Just when you think you have seen it all, along comes a race like the AT&T 250 NASCAR Busch Series race Saturday night at The Milwaukee Mile. A strange twist of events culminated with NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series regular Denny Hamlin pulling into A.J. Foyt Victory Lane at America's Legendary Oval, with the win being credited to his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Aric Almirola.
Hamlin started his day 2,150 miles from Milwaukee in Sonoma, Calif., which meant Almirola was tabbed as the practice and qualifying driver, allowing Hamlin to show up in time to drive in the AT&T 250.
Almirola won the pole in qualifying earlier in the afternoon for the second straight year at The Mile, and was prepared to give the keys to Hamlin from the cherished front row position for the race.
Rewind to one year ago, Hamlin flew from Sonoma to Milwaukee in time for driver introductions, a helmet exchange with former Green Bay Packers lineman Gilbert Brown, now a Milwaukee Mile shareholder, and Hamlin started the race.
Hamlin was scheduled to arrive at The Mile in time to drive in the NASCAR Busch Series event after completing his NEXTEL Cup obligations, but ran into logistics issues along the way, forcing him to miss the start of the AT&T 250.
Almirola led the field to the green flag and led the first 43 laps before turning the seat over to Hamlin at the team's discretion on under the event's third caution between laps 58 and 62.
By rule, the driver who starts in a NASCAR Busch Series events receives the credit for starting the race, accruing all the points and finish position.
"Aric deserves 75-percent of this win and it's great his name will be in the papers as the winner, "Hamlin continued. "What better way to showcase both drivers than to have both in the race. To get this win after the long trip then not being able to land and having to sit out the first 60 laps is incredible."
Hamlin entertained thoughts about relief driving for ill-feeling driver Steve Wallace until the call was made to call Almirola down pit road.
"I could live with the team's decision either way (making the driver change or leaving Almirola in the car)" a weary Hamlin stated afterwards. "I know I flew a long way to race but Aric was doing an incredible job in the car so I'm happy he's credited with the win."
Once at the wheel, Hamlin passed cars with conviction, ultimately making a highlight reel, three-wide pass on the flat one-mile oval for the lead entering turn one, powering past Wausau, Wisconsin's Scott Wimmer and Californian Jason Leffler in one fell swoop 22 laps shy of the checkered flag. It was a lead he would never relinquish.
Almirola elected not to participate in the post-race celebration with the team's Milwaukee-based sponsor Rockwell Automation.
Wimmer led 14 laps late in the going and was poised to extend the run to three of Wisconsin NASCAR drivers winning the AT&T 250 at The Mile (Necedah's Johnny Sauter in 2005, Eau Claire's Paul Menard in 2006) in front of the 41,925 partisan fans.
A series of late race cautions and Hamlin's determined drive left Wimmer searching for longer, green flag runs.
"It's not a bad night and we were decent all day, but long runs were the best for us," Wimmer explained. "My car really took off after twenty or thirty laps and I just couldn't get going on the restarts. I had to slow down to get the car to turn and then buzzed the tires off the corner. I drove as hard as I could."
Leffler, who challenged for the lead but never officially led a lap while racing with Wimmer and Hamlin, used pit strategy in a two-tire stop late to challenge with Wimmer side-by-side for the lead, with Hamlin's spectacular move late in the going spoiling Leffler's attempt to become the first Toyota Camry driver in the NASCAR Busch Series to record a victory.
"I had something for Wimmer for about two laps and knew I had to beat him on the restart," Leffler stated. "But Hamlin set us up like a couple of bowling pins and went right by us both. I knew that was coming when we were going down the back straightaway, but it's all good though. It was a good run for us."
Rookie Brad Coleman, a Joe Gibbs Racing teammate to Hamlin, ran an impressive fourth seven days after an impressive second place at Kentucky Speedway.
2003 AT&T 250 race winner Jason Keller was fifth in the BREWCO Motorsports Kleenex Ford. Toyota drivers Todd Bodine -- subbing for Dave Blaney - and David Reutimann finished in sixth and seventh place respectively.
Current NASCAR Busch Series point leader and NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series regular Carl Edwards arrived literally within minutes of his qualifying attempt to start and race from his ninth starting spot, dominated the first half of the event after grabbing control by lap 44 and leading a race high 123 laps.
Edwards' race changed as a cut tire on lap 173 left him a lap in arrears after being forced to pit under the green flag. Not-so-surprisingly considering his string of success this season in the Busch Series, Edwards made up the lost lap and was among the fastest cars at the finish to come home eighth.
"It was pretty frustrating, "Edwards said of the flat tire misfortune. Janesville, Wisconsin's Travis Kvapil, Edwards' Roush Fenway Racing Truck Series teammate, set the car up. "But you know what's cool? We raced hard and we had a lot of fun here at Milwaukee." "Congratulations to Denny Hamlin," Edwards continued. "I can't believe they did a driver switch and he still won the race; that's pretty awesome."
Fresh off of his Friday night Toyota Tundra Milwaukee 200 NASCAR Craftsan Truck Series victory, Johnny Benson drove a solid race to take the checkered flag in ninth, while Shane Huffman crossed the finish line in tenth.
This marks the first time a relief driver won an event since Harry Gant subbed for Jack Ingram at Darlington on April 13, 1985.
At The Milwaukee Mile, the world's oldest active speedway, the last stock car relief driver who drove to victory was recorded on August 20, 1964, when Parnelli Jones stepped in for an ailing Rodger Ward in the USAC Fair Stock 200.
The AT & T 250 featured five lead changes among four drivers and was slowed a total of nine times under the caution flag for 48 laps. The race was completed in just under three hours at an average speed of 85.203 mph.
For unofficial AT&T 250 race results and information on Wisconsin NASCAR Superstar Matt Kenseth's return to The Milwaukee Mile to race in a super late model on Sunday, August 26th, part of an all-stock car Governor's Cup weekend, log on to www.milwaukeemile.com.
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