Denny Hamlin’s pit crew was worth at least $1 million on Saturday night.
Hamlin entered the final pit stop in sixth place but exited in first and then skillfully held off Kevin Harvick during the final 10-lap segment to win Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The All-Star win – and its accompanying $1 million top prize – is the first for Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing organization. It was also the first All-Star victory for Toyota Racing.
“It’s just an unbelievable experience,” Hamlin said. “We just didn’t have a car that was fast enough to run with those guys until Dave (Rogers, crew chief) made that last adjustment and of course the clean air, but that pit crew ... they carried me all day long and they got us this victory.”
Harvick finished second, Kurt Busch third, Jeff Gordon fourth and Matt Kenseth fifth.
Hamlin was sixth entering the final mandatory four-tire pit stop, but his crew got him out first and into the lead to begin the final 10-lap shootout for the $1 million.
Three who mattered
Denny Hamlin: The first All-Star race win of his career is also the first for team owner Joe Gibbs.
Kevin Harvick: Harvick appeared to have the fastest car all night, but trouble on restarts slowed his advance.
Brad Keselowski: He entered pit road for the final pit stop with the lead but was penalized for speeding on pit road while he was trying to beat Hamlin to the line. That sent him to the rear of the field – and out of contention – on the final segment.
▪ The race was Kyle Busch’s first competitive NASCAR event since breaking his leg and foot in an accident in February at Daytona. He was slowed once by a speeding penalty and had to pit under green once for a loose wheel. All in all, not a bad performance as he finished sixth.
▪ Denny Hamlin won the pole earlier Saturday for the All-Star Race, completing the three-lap and four-tire pit stop qualifying procedure with an average lap at 145.648 mph. Danica Patrick was forced to start the race from the rear of the field because of a pre-race engine change.
Where: Charlotte Motor Speedway, Concord.
When: 6 p.m. May 24.
Radio: Performance Racing Network.