By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
CONCORD, N.C. – For NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular Denny Hamlin, today’s Hisense 4K TV 300 marked his first Xfinity Series race of 2016. This was also Hamlin’s first race in the Xfinity Series since Dover International Speedway last fall. Hamlin qualified his Hisense USA Toyota Camry third, behind teammates Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez. The beginning of the race was filled with cautions, preventing many from getting into a rhythm.
Hamlin followed Jones by Suarez as he spun his times on the start. Both Jones and Hamlin easily opened up a gap of over a second on Kyle Larson. As the gap over third began to increase, Hamlin slowly closed in on Jones for the lead. Hamlin had just passed Jones for the lead when the caution waved after Cody Ware spun into the wall. Hamlin and the rest of the field pitted under the caution, and Hamlin retained the lead through the round of pit stops.
Hamlin held onto the lead on the restart. A few laps after the restart, Hamlin slowed as Jones and Suarez spun behind him. Oil from another car was the culprit, taking out Jones, Elliott Sadler, and Suarez. On the radio, Hamlin said he thought he had a tire going down and then saw the oil and backed off.
By the time the race went back green, it was lap 41, and Hamlin chose to restart on the outside. Hamlin easily shot ahead of Larson. Once again, Hamlin was not able to open up his lead as the caution waved just two laps after the restart. This time the caution was for a spin by Martin Roy. With only eight green flag laps being run from the last time they pitted, Hamlin and his team elected to stay on track during the third caution.
Hamlin had a good restart, as did Larson and Ryan Blaney. Hamlin slipped back to fourth on the restart. Hamlin slowly moved back up ahead of Joey Logano for third when the caution waved for two separate incidents involving Spencer Gallagher and Carl Long. Hamlin pitted under caution and slipped to seventh as five cars did not pit.
On the restart, Hamlin jumped to the outside quickly passing those who stayed on track. Only one lap after the restart, Hamlin was in third. Two laps later, Hamlin passed Ross Chastain for the lead. Only a few laps later, the fifth caution of the day flew.
On the restart, Hamlin powered ahead of Logano. Hamlin slowly built on his lead on Blaney and Logano. 10 laps after the restart, Hamlin had nearly a second over Blaney. Hamlin caught the tail-end of the field, beginning to put competitors a lap down on lap 84. While caught in the lap traffic, Blaney was able to cut Hamlin’s lead in half. Blaney finally caught Hamlin on lap 92.
Hamlin was able to increase his lead as Larson and Blaney began to fight for the second positon. Larson quickly ran Hamlin back down. Hamlin finally relinquished the lead to Larson on lap 98. Larson quickly opened a one second gap on Hamlin as the field approached a round of green flag pit stops. Hamlin ducked onto pit road on lap 112, one lap ahead of race leader Larson. The pit cycle had nearly been completed when the caution waved after Brennan Poole dragged a fuel can out of his pit box and onto pit road. Hamlin moved up to the lead as Suarez pitted under the caution.
Hamlin had an excellent restart, easily clearing Larson before Logano jumped below him to take the lead. Hamlin and Larson then battle for second, allowing Logano to pull away. Hamlin slowly fell behind, losing third to Blaney, and falling into the clutches of Austin Dillon. Hamlin stabilized in the fourth position as the green flag run continued. Hamlin slowly reeled in Blaney to fight for the third position. Hamlin was never able to put up a fight against Blaney, and rode in fourth until the caution waved with about 43 laps to go. Hamlin was able to move ahead of Blaney during pit stops, however, was penalized for an uncontrolled tire.
As a result of the penalty, Hamlin restarted in the 13th position. Shortly after the restart, Hamlin had climbed back into the top 10. Hamlin picked his way through the field as he worked his way up to the seventh position. Hamlin then battled hard with Poole, sliding off of turn four to avoid making contact and take the sixth position away. Hamlin finally made his way back into the top five as he passed Cole Custer with 20 laps to go. Hamlin had worked his way up to third when the caution waved with a just two laps to go when Jones cut down a tire and hit the wall hard. Hamlin and several others elected to pit.
Hamlin restarted in the sixth position. With the benefit of four fresh tires, Hamlin made a couple of daring moves up the middle to reclaim the lead from Logano. Hamlin also avoid a last corner dive-bomb from Larson to take the checkered. This was Hamlin’s 15th career Xfinity Series win, and first win in the Xfinity Series at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Hamlin told the media after the race, “I felt that we had the best car all day, we just didn’t have some good restarts. The 42 had a good long run car. We had that penalty and fell back. I drove as hard as I could that last run, and got back up to third. We needed a caution and got it, and I was going to do the opposite of those in front of me. Our car was just fast. In the heat of the moment, I forgot to tell them to make an adjustment when I came down that last time.”
Image: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images