When his pit crew made a mistake that appeared to possibly cost him the race with 38 laps to go in Saturday’s Hisense 4K TV 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Denny Hamlin kept his cool.
Hamlin’s response over the team radio to the bad news that the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team was being penalized for losing a tire on pit road, which dropped him to 13th with just 38 laps remaining: “Cool.”
Hamlin then went about furiously making up for the lost track position, although he needed one final late caution to set him up for the XFINITY Series win.
“It was a second opportunity obviously,” Hamlin said of the last caution that was brought out by Erik Jones, his JGR teammate, blowing a tire. “I was hoping for that caution there at the end and we got it and we were able to get four tires on this Hisense Camry and took off.”
Did they ever.
Hamlin stormed from sixth to first on the green-white-checkered finish after taking on the four fresh tires. Both Kyle Larson and Joey Logano, who had been running 1-2, elected to stay out on older tires following the final caution.
Larson had been only three-quarters of a lap away from taking the white flag that would have meant victory when Jones blew the tire that brought out the eighth and final caution, setting up the green-white-checkered finish.
Larson ended up finished sixth after making his own determined run at Hamlin on the final lap, only to eventually fade and hit the outside wall. It was reminiscent of the duel he staged with Logano at the finish of the Sprint All-Star Race one week earlier at Charlotte, when Larson also came up on the short end.
“I’m getting used to it by now,” a dejected Larson told FOX Sports.
Unfortunately for both Larson and Logano, they were proverbial sitting ducks after they stayed out on tires that had about 40 laps each on them. Everyone else, including Hamlin, pitted to take on at least some fresh rubber.
Larson passed Logano with six laps to go and then held him off, as the two waged a spirited battle before Larson finally pulled away. And then Jones blew the tire, setting up the GWC finish.
While Larson and Logano elected to stay out on the older tires, Hamlin took on four fresh Goodyears and came out sixth behind not only Larson and Logano but also three other cars that elected to gamble on taking only two tires to gain track position.
“We were sitting out there with 40-lap tires on and you’ve got a bunch of two tires and four tires behind you, and I knew I had to get a good start at least and get by Larson, and then hope for the best at that point,” Logano said. “I was able to execute that plan and get out in front of Larson, and then the next thing you know here comes Denny Hamlin.
“He was coming like crazy and I went into (Turn) 3 thinking I was going to win the race — and by the time I came off of (Turn) 4 he was all over me. And I said, ‘Oh, boy. I may not win this one.’
Hamlin said he and crew chief Chris Gayle made the call to take four tires together.
“It was a collaborative call,” Hamlin said. “(Gayle) leaned toward staying out, but I thought that I could get around those guys in just two laps. … I thought tires were the thing.”
Two laps ended up being plenty of time for Hamlin to run them all down, much to his delight after he overcame the earlier pit-road miscue by his team that appeared to earlier cost him any chance he would have of winning.
Hamlin, who led a race-high 75 laps, made a spirited run toward the front over the final 38 laps after the pit-road penalty dropped him to 13th on the next-to-last restart.
By 13 to go, Hamlin was up to fourth; by the time the caution flag flew with Larson a tantalizing three-quarters of a lap from taking the white flag that would have meant victory, Hamlin was third.
The drivers of three cars running in the top six at the time suffered what appeared to be dire consquences after hitting fluid on the track on Lap 25. All three wrecked to some degree after encountering the fluid on the 1.5-mile track.
Jones was running second when he hit what appeared to be oil coming out of Turn 3, causing him to lose the back end of his car and hit the outside wall.
Suarez was running fifth and got the worst of the deal, spinning wildly after hitting the slick area of the track and wrecking his car badly. Sadler, running sixth right behind Suarez, then plowed into Suarez after Suarez hit the outside wall.
Amazingly, the teams of all three drivers were able to make repairs to their respective cars during repeated visits to pit road. All three continued on in the race despite the damage to their cars and the loss of valuable track position.
And in the end, Jones’ blown tire played a pivotal role in the outcome, giving Hamlin his “second opportunity” to make up for the earlier pit-road miscue.
Austin Dillon finished second, followed by Logano, Cole Custer and Justin Allgaier.
“It was a blast,” said Hamlin, a Sprint Cup regular who only dabbles in running in the XFINTY Series these days. “I haven’t always been a fan of running in this series — but it’s a lot of fun when you win them.”