Interstate Batteries Racing: Denny Hamlin NNS Race Report
Las Vegas, Mar. 5, 2011: Denny Hamlin didn’t gamble, yet he still came up short in Saturday’s Sam’s Town 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The driver of the No. 20 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) finished seventh after leading twice for 28 laps around the 1.5-mile oval.
Hamlin and Carl Edwards were the class of the field in the last half of the 200-lap race, and after each pitted with less than 20 laps to go, it appeared it would be a battle to the finish between the two veterans. Unfortunately, a handful of drivers still on the lead lap had varying pit strategies and successfully gambled that their fuel could carry them to the finish. That left a disappointed Hamlin in seventh-place, while an equally disappointed Edwards finished just ahead of Hamlin in sixth.
“We knew it was going to be close,” said Hamlin, who now has three top-10 finishes in six career Nationwide Series starts at Las Vegas. “I knew some guys were going to stretch it to make it. You just hope that it doesn’t come down to that and it did.
“We were pretty good – better than I thought we were going to be today. It seemed like we were a little bit off on speed all day yesterday. We got a little bit of that back today. I have to say thanks to Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and this whole Interstate Batteries team. I’m proud of them. This is a new team with a new crew chief and everything, and it was a good experience.”
While taking a positive outlook after a tough finish, Hamlin obviously would have preferred to go head-to-head with Edwards in the final laps.
“We were so equal,” Hamlin said. “He was a little bit better than me on the long runs. That’s part of racing, though. You have to have the right fuel strategy and have everything go the right way, and it just didn’t happen.”
Hamlin’s JGR teammates – Brian Scott, driver of the No. 11 Shore Lodge Toyota Camry, and Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Z-Line Designs Toyota Camry – finished 14th and 30th respectively. Busch was dominant early in the race, leading three times for a race-high 84 laps, but he spun down the frontstretch on lap 131 and his car smacked the inside retaining wall. Busch was unhurt, but his car was too damaged to continue.
Mark Martin bolstered his all-time Nationwide Series victory mark by winning the Sam’s Town 300. It was his 49th career Nationwide Series win, his first of the season and his fourth at Las Vegas. The victory was Martin’s first win in the Nationwide Series since 2008 when he won at Las Vegas.
Justin Allgaier finished 1.221 seconds behind Martin in the runner-up spot, while Brad Keselowski, Danica Patrick and Trevor Bayne rounded out the top-five. Edwards, Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Jason Leffler and Kenny Wallace comprised the remainder of the top-10.
In finishing fourth, Patrick became the first female to score a top-five finish in a Nationwide Series race. She is now the highest-finishing female in a NASCAR national series event. Sara Christian finished fifth at Heidlberg, Pa., on Oct. 2, 1949 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
There were six caution periods for 27 laps, with 15 drivers failing to finish.
The Nationwide Series takes a rare weekend off before returning to action for the March 19 Scotts Turf Builder 300 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. The race starts at 2 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by ESPN beginning with its pre-race show at 1 p.m.