DARLINGTON, S.C. – Sept. 5, 2015 - Denny Hamlin led 117 of 147 laps in winning Saturday’s VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Darlington Raceway but had to make a late race pass of Daniel Suarez to claim the victory.
Hamlin started from the pole and led the early portion of the race before giving up the lead to Kevin Harvick during a cycle of pit stops on lap 26.
Hamlin and Harvick, who would eventually finish fourth, would swap the lead multiple times throughout the middle portion of the race. A caution on Lap 70 after Todd Bodine spun in Turn 4 set up mid-race pitstops that would lead to an error by Hamlin’s pit crew.
As Hamlin’s gasman was trying to engage a second fuel can in the No. 20 Sport Clips Toyota Camry, he fumbled the can and Hamlin left pit road without a full fuel load.
The miscue would cause Hamlin to pit earlier than the rest of the leaders late in the race, which gave him an advantage with four fresh Goodyear tires.
“We didn’t get the car full on that stop, which may have been a blessing in disguise because we had to short pit,” Hamlin said.
Hamlin pitted from the lead on lap 122 handing the lead over to Harvick, who would maintain the lead until he pitted nine laps later.
“I didn’t think anyone could make it on fuel but then I saw those guys stretching it,” Hamlin said. The victory was Hamlin’s fourth XFINITY Series triumph at NASCAR’s original superspeedway, all of which starting from the top-starting spot.
Harvick pitting gave the lead to XFINITY Series rookie Daniel Suarez, who was on a different pit strategy than the leaders. Suarez conserved fuel in the closing laps, eventually being passed by Hamlin with three laps remaining.
“The pace that we were running I knew it would be close, it looked like the 18 picked up speed with about 8 laps to go,” Hamlin said.
“I couldn’t see him, he was so far ahead, but evidently he hit the wall and had some damage,” Hamlin added.
Suarez, who was passed near the finish by Kyle Busch, would go on to win the final $100,000 bonus of the season as part of the XFINITY Dash4Cash program.
“I give all the credit to my team, to my crew chief. I feel like we had a strong top-10 car,” Suarez said. “It was tough racing. It’s my first time here. I wasn’t expecting the tires to fall off that much. I thought I had a flat or something."
Harvick came home fourth while championship point leader Chris Buescher was fifth. The remainder of the top10 consisted of Joey Logano, Kyle Larson, Landon Cassill, Regan Smith and Ross Chastain.
Buescher’s point lead if now 29 over Ty Dillon and 35 over defending XFINITY Series champion Chase Elliott.
Sunday’s “Throwback” Southern 500, which is celebrating the track’s history with special car paint schemes of driver’s race cars of the past, is slated for a 7 p.m. ET start. Brad Keselowski captured the pole award for the event Saturday with a speed of 178.874 mph. Kurt Busch will start second, followed by Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and seven-time Darlington winner Jeff Gordon, who will be making his final start at the 1.366-mile venue.
For ticket information for the Southern 500, logo onto www.darlingtonraceway.com or call 1-866-459-7223.