By Amanda Vincent, NASCAR reporter
- Kyle Busch's 48th series win
- Hamlin takes second
- JGR's 13th one-two finish
When it comes to Joe Gibbs Racing, Denny Hamlin is considered the organization’s master at Darlington Raceway. But it was JGR driver Kyle Busch celebrating in victory lane following the Royal Purple 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series event at the track on Friday night. The win was Busch’s first in Nationwide competition at Darlington, but the 48th series win of his career to bring him within one race of Mark Martin’s Nationwide record of 49 victories.
“(Crew chief) Jason Ratcliff and the guys brought me an awesome race car,” Busch said.
Hamlin, who had won three of the last five Nationwide races at Darlington heading into Friday’s race, finished second to his teammate to give JGR its 13th one-two finish in series competition.
“This is what we try to do -- finish one-two for Joe Gibbs Racing,” Hamlin said.
After qualifying was rained out, the starting grid was set by practice speeds, giving Busch the pole starting spot, while Hamlin started back in 17th.
“We were so far off in practice,” Hamlin said. “We made gains on it.”
Early in the race, Busch, Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne juggled the lead, with each driver spending some time in first. Meanwhile, Hamlin worked his way toward the front, as did Clint Bowyer. After being second in practice earlier in the day, Bowyer was supposed to start on the front row beside Busch, but missing the roll call during the drivers’ meeting sent Bowyer to the back for the start of the race.
Jason Ratcliff and the guys brought me an awesome race car.
Series regulars Elliott Sadler and Jason Leffler occupied the first two positions on a restart following the competition caution that came out on lap 25 by taking only two tires, but it was around lap 90 of the 147-lap race that pit strategies really started to vary.
A debris caution sent most of the field down pit road, with some drivers taking fuel only, some two tires and others four. Bowyer, who had worked his way into the top-10 by that point, and Aric Almirola opted for fuel only. Hamlin was among the drivers who took two, and Busch was among those who opted to take four.
Meanwhile, six drivers, including the series’ top-two drivers in points -- Justin Allgaier and Sadler -- Steve Wallace and Kenny Wallace, opted to stay out. According to Sadler, he would have pitted, though, if he had known almost everyone else was going to.
“We didn’t know everyone else was going to pit,” Sadler said after the race.
Another caution -- the fifth and final one of the race -- came out almost immediately, as Almirola, Bowyer and Hamlin raced three wide and ran out of room. While the cars of Hamlin and Bowyer sustained little to no damage, Almirola hit the wall and his race ended prematurely.
In the garage, Almirola expressed displeasure in regards to Sprint Cup Series regulars Bowyer and Hamlin for racing so aggressively as they just race in the Nationwide Series for fun, while series regulars race for a championship. Hamlin, however, saw things differently.
This is what we try to do -- finish one-two for Joe Gibbs Racing.
“That’s racing here,” Hamlin said. “They’d do the same to me, and they have before. I didn’t cause that wreck.”
Edwards, along with Brad Keselowski and Brian Scott, also sustained major damage from the incident. Edwards was able to continue, but his car was somewhat off the pace for the remainder of the race.
Busch, with the advantage of four new tires late in the race, made his way back toward the front, passing Sadler for the lead with 24 laps to go. By the final 20 laps, JGR had command of the top-two spots, with Busch leading and Hamlin running second. By the time Hamlin had gotten by Sadler for the second spot, though, Busch had pulled away from the pack. His lead was more than three seconds by the final five laps of the race.
Sadler held on to finish in the third spot and Allgaier was fourth. With his third-place finish, Sadler trimmed a point off Allgaier’s championship points lead, to trail by only five.
Steve Wallace rounded out the top-five. Bowyer finished sixth, Kahne was seventh, Reed Sorenson eighth, Jason Leffler ninth and Ricky Stenhouse rounded out the top-10. Kenny Wallace was the only other driver on the lead lap, finishing 11th.