Earlier today in qualifying for the 31st Sprint All-Star Race, while attempting to slow down and make it into his pit stall, Denny Hamlin, knowing that he would likely miss his pit, put his car in reverse before he stopped. That move proved to be worth $1 million, as he started first and won on stock car racing’s All-Star night.
Hamlin had solid finishes in the first two segments, using track position to his benefit, but a speeding penalty sent him to the back of the field for segment three. A two-tire call, paired with a lot of encouragement from crew chief Dave Rogers, bolted Hamlin back near the front of the field for segment four. That upped his average finish, launching the driver back into contention, and then his pit crew took care of the rest. A lightning-quick, 10.4-second stop put Hamlin out front for final 10-lap shootout and on the restart, he never looked back. Edging Kevin Harvick by 12 car lengths, the win is Hamlin’s first in the All-Star event, the first for Toyota and the first for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Hamlin’s win capped off a good night for JGR. Matt Kenseth finished fifth and Kyle Busch, making his first start in a NASCAR event since his injury in the Xfinity Series season opener at Daytona, rallied from a speeding penalty to finish sixth.
Harvick nearly went from starting last in the race to finishing first but had to settle for a second-place result for the second year in a row. Segment four winner Kurt Busch, who at times appeared to have the strongest car in the field finished right behind his teammate in third. Jeff Gordon, making his final appearance in the All-Star Race, ran fourth. To honor his final All-Star start, the drivers, his family and former crew chief Ray Evernham met him on stage.
Kasey Kahne was first at the end of segment one, but finished the 110-lap event in seventh. Team Penske’s Joey Logano was eighth while teammate Brad Keselowski, after leading a race-high 49 laps, settled for ninth. The No. 2 was dominant at times throughout the night, winning segments two and three, but a speeding penalty on the last pit stop cost him a chance to win. Dale Earnhardt Jr., fighting an ill-handling car most of the evening, rounded out the top-10 finishers.
AJ Allmendinger came home 11th, followed by Sprint Showdown winners Clint Bowyer and Greg Biffle. Aric Almirola, in his first All-Star Race, finished 14th, ahead of four-time All-Star Race winner Jimmie Johnson, a big disappointment after battling an ill-handling car most of the night.
Jamie McMurray, Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick rounded out the finishing order. Patrick, this weekend’s Fan Vote winner, was never a factor and suffered mechanical problems, sending her behind the wall. That was the only major “incident” in an All-Star event that was virtually contact and caution-free (besides the mandatory yellows under the format).