Joe Gibbs Racing deployed three different race strategies in the Great Clips Help a Hero 200 at Darlington Raceway in the later stages of Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity series race, ending up 1-2-3 in the finishing order with Denny Hamlin taking home ‘The Track Too to Tame’s’ top honors and the big trophy.
Hamlin used a pit miscue on his next to last pit stop on lap 72 when his fueler missed getting the second can of Sunoco gas into the car. Hamlin’s race plans suddenly changed, and to his favor. His team’s short pitting approach of stopping for his final time on lap 122 of 147 for fresh tires and a full tank gave him a faster car when it counted the most, passing JGR teammate Daniel Suarez for the lead with three laps to go. Suarez was in a fuel stretching mode during the long green flag period at the finish, hoping to sneak off with his first win.
“I’m almost glad we didn’t (get the car full of fuel),” Hamlin said after the race, who led for 117 laps. “We didn’t want a caution to fall and trap us there, but I had scraped the wall and kind of misjudged my line one time and got a little right-side damage, and the car just stopped turning. I don’t know if the right side would have made it or not.”
Kyle Busch’s pit maneuver of waiting for a yellow flag that never came failed when he had to pit with only 17 laps left producing some quick, fast laps but not enough to catch Hamlin’s strong car at that point finishing second also passing the struggling Suarez for second on the white flag lap.
“I saw how fast the 20 [Hamlin] was in the second practice, and I knew we would have our work cut out for us,” Busch said. “But having Joe Gibbs Racing come in 1-2-3 is pretty stout, and something everybody back at the shop can be proud of.”
Kevin Harvick led 16 laps and finished fourth, his chances thwarted when the race ran green to the finish.
“The 9 [Chase Elliott] hit the wall or was blowing up or something, and we stayed out a few extra laps, thinking that the caution was going to come out, and got a little behind,” said Harvick.
Daniel Suarez’s bid to win did pay off, taking home a $100,000 Dash4Cash bonus check with his third-place run. It was his sixth top-five finish of what has been an impressive rookie season.
Rounding out the top five were Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Suarez, Kevin Harvick, and point leader Chris Buescher.
The average speed of the Great Clips Help a Hero 200 was 141.355 mph showing two caution periods for only eight laps. There were seven lead changes among three drivers.
Buescher extended his points lead to now 29 over Ty Dillon and 35 over Chase Elliott with nine races until the year’s finale at Homestead, Fla.
The next NASCAR Xfinity series is next weekend at the Richmond International Raceway for the running of the Virginia529 College Savings 250 on Friday night, Sept. 11, at 7 p.m. on NBCSN.