DARLINGTON, S.C. – Denny Hamlin may have led Saturday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series field to green at Darlington Raceway, but it was a long, hard journey before he found himself back on top of the scoring pylon at the end of the day.
Hamlin, who led the first 29 laps of the Sport Clips Haircuts-VFW 200 from the pole, was mired in third or worse for much of the day after being overhauled by the faster cars of Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano.
But the Chesterfield, Va. native was fastest when it counted, using an overtime restart and a perfectly-placed charge to the inside of Turns 1 and 2 to power back past Logano and win for the fifth time in XFINITY Series action at Darlington.
After dispatching Logano, Hamlin led the final two laps en route to his 17th series win and second of the season in just four starts.
“I got a really good restart and got through (Turns) 1 and 2 really well,” said Hamlin, who has won all five of his Darlington XFINITY races from the pole position. “From there, I just held it wide open.”
Though Logano got back to his bumper entering Turn 3 on the final circuit, Hamlin was able to hang on despite a ghost of a nudge from the pursuing Ford.
“That was a great run for the (No.) 22 … just getting back to me there on that last lap,” Hamlin admitted. “I think that was a throwback to Dale Earnhardt there in Turns 3 and 4 that he pulled.”
“We definitely didn’t have the best handling car at the beginning of the race and got it better towards the end. I actually hated that the caution came out, because I thought I could run down the (No.) 41 (of Harvick), but it turns out we made it a little bit more exciting.”
The final stage kicked off with 51 laps remaining, seeing Logano in front of the field by virtue of the No. 1 pit stall after Harvick had won the first two stages.
Logano quickly darted out to a six-car length lead, while Harvick fought and clawed for the second spot in line, muscling his way into the top groove after restarting on the bottom of the track.
A quick caution for the spinning car of Spencer Gallagher off Turn 2 set that duo back up on the front row – Logano up high and Harvick down low – as the green flag waved next with 45 to go.
Again, the order out front remained unchanged as Logano took the race lead over Harvick, but Harvick was not content riding second. He took shots at Logano on the bottom of Turns 3 and 4 on laps 115 and 116 before washing up and getting into the side of Logano’s No. 22 Ford coming to complete lap 117.
At that point, Logano finally relinquished the fight, ceding the top spot with 30 to go as Harvick took over.
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