Hamlin, FedEx Racing Claim All-Star Victory and $1 Million PrizeMay 18, 2015
Denny Hamlin claimed his first career Sprint All-Star Race victory Saturday night in the #11 FedEx Express Toyota at Charlotte Motor Speedway after leading a total of 26 laps and holding off a hard-charging Kevin Harvick in the final 10-lap segment of the star-studded 110-lap non-points event.
“It’s definitely my biggest win for sure, we had to hold off Kevin Harvick, and we haven’t been able to do that for two years,” said Hamlin, following the win. “My FedEx crew carried me all day, they helped me get the pole, kept me in contention all night, and really stepped it up when we needed it the most.”
Hamlin qualified on the pole earlier in the evening with a little help from his FedEx pit crew after they changed four tires with blazing speed during the mandatory pit stop in the unique three-lap qualifying format.
Starting from the pole, Hamlin jumped out to an early lead, but a loose condition developed and Kasey Kahne passed the #11 after 15 laps of the 25-lap first segment.
Between segments, Hamlin pitted for four tires, fuel and chassis adjustments to try and tighten up the car. However, the loose condition continued and a severe vibration also developed dropping the FedEx car back to eighth by the end of the second 25-lap segment.
Hamlin was forced to start 19th in the third segment after a pit road speeding penalty sent him to the tail end of the field prior to the start. While the handling issues continued, he was able to hang on to the ill handling car long enough to finish the segment 13th.
With the average finish from the four 25-lap segments dictating where the drivers would line up for the mandatory four tire pit stop before to the final 10-lap dash, crew chief Dave Rogers -- hoping to elevate their average -- called an audible to the teams race strategy and changed only right-side tires prior to the fourth and final 25-lap segment. The two tire stop put the #11 machine second, next to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth for the restart. Hamlin quickly powered past his teammate and led three laps before finishing third after being passed by Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick.
Hamlin’s average finishing position sent him to the pits sixth for the mandatory four-tire stop, where arguably the best pit crew in the sport worked their magic, gaining five positions sending the FedEx car out in the top spot following a lightning fast stop and narrowly beating Brad Keselowski off pit road, who was subsequently penalized for speeding while exiting the pits.
Hamlin picked the inside line for the 10-lap shootout for the $1 million prize, with Kurt Busch second, Harvick third, Kahne fourth and Jeff Gordon fifth.
Hamlin timed the restart perfectly and jumped out to a big lead, with Harvick moving into second. Harvick tried everything to get close to Hamlin, and with three laps to go was on the rear bumper of the #11 machine and ready to strike, but Hamlin moved up and took Harvick’s preferred line away costing him to lose momentum. Hamlin took the checkered flag .823 seconds ahead of Harvick, followed by Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth.
The win also gave the Joe Gibbs Racing organization their first Sprint All-Star victory.
NASCAR returns to action Sunday, May 24 at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Coca-Cola 600.