While a Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) driver still claimed the victory in Saturday night's NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, Denny Hamlin fell just short of capturing the seventh straight win for JGR's Nationwide Series ...
While a Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) driver still claimed the victory in Saturday night's NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, Denny Hamlin fell just short of capturing the seventh straight win for JGR's Nationwide Series program. The driver of the No. 20 Z-Line Designs Toyota finished second in the Carquest Auto Parts 300 to Kyle Bush, who won his 15th career Nationwide Series race while on loan from JGR to Braun Racing.
But in the chase to earn that seventh straight win, Hamlin, along with JR Motorsports driver Brad Keselowski, garnered most of the attention following the 202-lap contest, which was extended two laps past its scheduled 200-lap distance due to a green-white-checkered finish.
The fireworks began under the final caution on lap 199 when Keselowski made contact with Hamlin's rear bumper as the two drivers were in the middle of turns one and two. As the pair exited turn two, Hamlin returned the favor and moved up the race track and into Keselowski's right-front quarterpanel. Watching this unfold in front of him was Dale Earnhardt Jr., -- Keselowski's teammate and car owner -- who drove up and rammed Hamlin's rear bumper as they rolled along the backstretch.
"All three of us were racing there at the end, but the next thing I know, he (Keselowski) picks my back tires up under caution and then pulls over beside me," said Hamlin of Keselowski. "So I pulled beside him and knocked his fender in."
The late-race exchange under caution stemmed from close racing between the two drivers during the final third of the race, where Hamlin felt the young Keselowski didn't exercise enough give-and-take.
"If a guy has got everything but two inches on you, let him go because he got there for a reason, and I got there many times on (Keselowski) earlier in the race," said a frustrated Hamlin. "Then he would slide up in the middle and get a good run off the corner, but it was almost at the end of the race and I had a great run on the top on him. I was up there next to his door and he slid up from the bottom all the way to the top and cut my nose off. Brad has enough talent to be in the Cup Series, but I don't know if it's just these short races that he's been in or what. You just shouldn't race like that. You can, but it will hurt you in the future."
Hamlin started ninth and held steady among the top-10 for most of the event. He waited patiently for a few opportunities to bring the Z-Line Designs Toyota to pit road and to the attention of crew chief Dave Rogers, as a tight handling condition thwarted Hamlin's forward progress. Rogers found a balance for the No. 20 machine that suited Hamlin well, as the Chesterfield, Va.-native worked his way up to third by the halfway point of the race and never dropped lower than fourth for the remainder of the evening.
When the race was extended to a green-white-checkered finish and restarted on lap 200, Hamlin was able to get into a position to battle Busch for the win. While Hamlin made several attempts on lap 201 to slip by Busch, his attempt for the win was cut short on the final lap when Mike Wallace made hard contact with the SAFER Barrier that lines the outside retaining wall in turn one. The accident forced the race to finish under caution, and per the NASCAR rulebook in a green-white-checkered situation, if the caution flag waves once the white flag has been displayed to the leader, the field is frozen and the race is over.
"It seemed like if you got back past third or fourth position you couldn't make too much headway, but as long as you had clean air it seemed like whoever could get out there could go pretty good," said Hamlin, who won in his last drive for Z-Line Designs on May 2 at his hometown track of Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. "It's just really tough to pass out there and it's just one of those deals where you try to play that track position thing at the end of the race as best you can. We just came up a little short. We didn't need that caution at the end."
Hamlin's second-place effort kept the No. 20 car first in the Nationwide Series owner standings, 147 points ahead of the No. 2 entry of Richard Childress Racing after 13 of 35 races on the Nationwide Series schedule.
There were 12 caution periods for 44 laps, with 14 drivers failing to finish.
Busch's win was his fourth Nationwide Series triumph this season and his third Nationwide Series victory at Charlotte. Finishing behind Hamlin and Keselowski in fourth was Earnhardt, while Brian Vickers secured the rest of the top-five. Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton, David Ragan and Jimmie Johnson comprised the remainder of the top-10.
The next event on the Nationwide Series schedule is the May 31 Heluva Good! 200 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. The race starts at 3 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by ESPN2 beginning with its pre-race show at 2:30 p.m. The race will also be broadcast live on SIRIUS Satellite Radio Channel 128.
The No. 20 Z-Line Designs Toyota returns to action July 11 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., where Busch will be behind the wheel for the Dollar General 300.