Darlington: Joe Gibbs Racing race report

HAMLIN BESTS BUSCH IN Z-LINE DESIGNS 'DUEL AT DARLINGTON' Z-Line Designs Drivers Finish 1-2 in NASCAR Nationwide Series Race Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch thoroughly dominated Friday night's Royal Purple 200 ...

Z-Line Designs Drivers Finish 1-2 in NASCAR Nationwide Series Race

Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch thoroughly dominated Friday night's Royal Purple 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway by leading all but 19 of the race's 147 laps en route to a stout 1-2 finish.

The two drivers, both representing Z-Line Designs, the designer and import manufacturer of ready-to-assemble furniture, showed their strength even before the race began. Hamlin in his No. 20 Z-Line Designs Toyota Camry took the pole in qualifying, while Busch put his No. 18 Z-Line Designs Toyota alongside Hamlin in the second spot. It provided a picture-perfect front row, with both Z-Line Designs entries serving as the backdrop for separate $25,000 check presentations to the two charities emblazoned on the car's hoods.

Z-Line Designs founder and CEO Jim Sexton and his wife, Monica, presented the donations to Racing for Kids and Operation Helmet. Racing for Kids is a charity founded in Detroit in 1989 that uses the popularity of motorsports to focus public attention and funding on the health care needs of children, while Operation Helmet is a 100 percent volunteer, non-partisan charitable organization headquartered in Montgomery, Texas, that provides helmet upgrade kits free of charge to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Operation Helmet logo was on the No. 20 Toyota driven by Hamlin, while Busch's No. 18 machine featured Racing For Kids. The race within the race was whichever driver finished higher, the charity on his racecar would get an additional $10,000 from Z-Line Designs. Call it mission accomplished for Hamlin and Operation Helmet.

"This was a great racecar. When you have a car that drives as good as it did today, it makes your job a whole lot easier," said Hamlin, who has now scored three of his 10 career Nationwide Series victories at Darlington. "I gotta thank Monica Sexton. We won the competition with Kyle. Operation Helmet gives away after-market padding for soldier's helmets. The stock stuff is pretty hard and pretty tough on the guys out there. We wanted to make their jobs as easy as possible."

Busch led 17 laps to Hamlin's race-high 111 laps led. The two drivers had fast racecars, obviously, but Busch often found himself in the dirty air of Hamlin's wake. Unable to race in clean air, Busch couldn't mount the charge necessary to pass his teammate, and he finished .625 of a second behind in the runner-up slot.

"We had a really, really fast racecar. Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) and the guys did a great job," said Busch, who posted his seventh top-10 in the 10 Nationwide Series races run this year. "I think we were a little bit better than what the '20' (Hamlin) was, but it just shows how pivotal clean air is. He was out front all night."

"It was a great competition between two terrific drivers," said Jim Sexton, who sat atop the No. 18 pit box. "Both guys have won here before, but it was a great thing for the charities since they got some tremendous exposure. That's what it's all about. It really wasn't about winning and losing, but highlighting the charities and getting their message out there and it worked out well tonight."

"Everyone won tonight. We had great exposure for two wonderful causes," added Monica Sexton, who cheered on the No. 20 team. "Everyone had a great time trying to win. Two causes that needed attention certainly got that."

While the 1-2 finish -- JGR's ninth in the last 80 Nationwide Series races -- brought attention to two worthy causes, it also brought attention to Kevin Kidd, who as Hamlin's crew chief, scored his first career Nationwide Series victory.

"It's just an overwhelming feeling right now to be able to go to victory lane, and particularly to do it at a place like this," said Kidd, alluding to Darlington's 61-year history. "It has as much history in it with great crew chiefs and great drivers who have been to victory lane here. I'm just proud to be a part of that now."

Finishing third was Jamie McMurray, while Kasey Kahne and Jason Leffler rounded out the top-five. Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Brian Vickers and Paul Menard comprised the remainder of the top-10.

The race featured nine caution periods for 42 laps, with 11 drivers failing to finish the race.

While Hamlin and Busch are not running the full Nationwide Series schedule, JGR's Nos. 18 and 20 Toyotas are competing or the owner's title. Both gained one spot with their 1-2 finish. The No. 20 car improved to second in the standings with 1,598 points, 17 markers behind the first-place No. 22 car of Penske Racing. The No. 18 car moved up to third with 1,560 points, 55 behind the leader.

The next event on the Nationwide Series schedule is the May 15 Heluva Good! 200 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. The race starts at 2:30 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by ABC beginning with its pre-race show at 2 p.m.

-source: jgr/z-line

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Drivers Jason Leffler , Kevin Harvick , Jamie McMurray , Kasey Kahne , Brian Vickers , Paul Menard , Carl Edwards , Brad Keselowski , Denny Hamlin , Kyle Busch
Teams Team Penske , Joe Gibbs Racing