Friday looked like Denny Hamlin’s night. The Virginia native dominated the night at Darlington in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race, but the Lady in Black proved to be a fickle dance partner, and when the checkered flag flew, it was Hamlin’s teammate Joey Logano who visited Victory Lane for the second week in a row in the Nationwide Series. Logano took the lead on the last caution flag of the night and got the restart he needed to put enough distance between his No. 20 and Hamlin so that Hamlin couldn’t get close enough to make a move in the two-lap green-white-checkered run to the end. Hamlin came home second, and Brad Keselowski, Sam Hornish, Jr., and Austin Dillon rounded out the top 5.
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. led the field to the green flag, but Darlington is known for being a difficult track to race, and the caution flew on just the second lap for rookie Ryan Blaney, who got loose in turn 2 and hit the wall. The chain reaction caught up Matt Frahm, Casey Roderick, Chase Miller and Blake Koch as well as each suffered some degree of damage.
After the restart, Hamlin tipped his hand to everyone, taking over the lead and opening up to several seconds within the next 30 laps. Mike Wallace brought out the second caution on lap 35 after a cut tire sent his No. 01 into the wall. Just four laps after the restart from that incident, T.J. Bell tried to pass Josh Richardson on the inside, but didn’t give Richardson enough room on top, and the result was a mangled racecar for Bell.
It was Hamlin on point for the restart, and he led Logano, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Kurt Busch and Elliott Sadler when the green came out. Busch made a brief bid for the lead, but Hamlin got back by on lap 52, and he took the field to school for the ensuing green-flag run, opening up a six-second lead by lap 110.
Busch lost a tire on lap 126, scraping the wall in the No. 54. The leaders pitted with just 20 laps to go in the race, and a two-tire strategy put Sadler in front of the field for the restart with 15 laps to go. Sadler held off second-place Joey Logano as Logano fought Hamlin for second. Hamlin was able to get by Logano and was just starting to work over Sadler for the lead when Brendan Gaughan had a tire let go and brought out the yellow again with ten laps remaining. This time, nobody came to pit road.
Sadler would restart with the lead, but the two-tire move showed its weakness as Hamlin and Logano were able to challenge. Logano made a move to the inside, but clipped Sadler’s left rear, squeezing Sadler up the track directly into Hamlin’s line. Sadler hit the wall and Hamlin suffered damage that would relegate him to second in the race. Kasey Kahne was also caught in the fracas. Sadler was able to limp to pit road, but a broken oil line made for a lengthy cleanup and set up the green-white-checkered.
Logano got a big jump on what proved to be the race’s final restart. He held off a charging Hamlin to take back-to-back wins for the second time in his career. Logano made a point of calling Sadler immediately to apologize for the unintentional contact that ended Sadler’s night and cost him the points lead. The win was the first for Logano at Darlington and his 12th Nationwide victory overall.
Sadler had hoped to gain ground on point leader Stenhouse, but his 24th-place finish allowed Stenhouse to stretch the lead to 23 on the strength of his own 6th-place run. Sadler remains second in points. Dillon is currently third, 35 behind Stenhouse, and Hornish and Cole Whitt round out the top 5 in Nationwide Series points.
The series heads to Iowa next week.
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