After 200 miles and 125 laps of racing at Michigan International Speedway, it all came down to a matter of inches at the start/finish line for NASCAR’s XFINITY Series.
Denny Hamlin won the Irish Hills 250 thanks to a last-lap pass on William Byron at the two-mile oval in the Irish Hills of Michigan. The No. 20 Hisense Toyota beat Byron’s No. 9 Liberty University Chevrolet to the line by 0.012 seconds. That’s the closest finish in XFINITY Series history at MIS.
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The Chesterfield, Va. native led 34 laps on the afternoon en route to earning his first XFINITY Series victory for Joe Gibbs Racing since Charlotte in the spring of 2016.
“The Hisense 4K TV was fast all day,” Hamlin told FOX Sports 1 in Victory Lane. “Definitely didn’t want [to see] that debris caution at the end. I was just hoping [NASCAR wasn’t] going to call it. But it definitely feels good.”
Hamlin restarted in the lead with nine laps remaining, but lost the to spot to Brad Keselowski, who was then passed by Byron. For a time, it looked like the 19-year-old might have his first career XFINITY victory in hand.
Byron held serve on the outside lane until the field reached the backstretch. Hamlin then went low on the 19-year-old driver and made it stick. He got just enough of a run and side draft coming off turn 4 to secure his first win in NASCAR this season.
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“[Byron] did a great job and I knew he had a really good car that last long run we had,” Hamlin said in Victory Lane. “He’s done a really good job. He’s one of NASCAR’s next young superstars. He slid up to barely let me get to that left rear … proud of this team, great that we got a win.”
The second-place result for Byron is the best result of his young XFINITY Series career. The teenager won six Camping World Truck Series races last season en route to Rookie of the Year. Saturday showed he’s knocking on that door once again.
“It was a lot of fun,” second-place finisher Byron said in the post-race press conference. “Elliott [Sadler] was pushing us really hard on the restart, which got us the lead. And we were able to hold the [No.] 20 down in [Turns] 1 and 2 and got ourselves clear to the lead. Just didn’t quite have enough the last couple laps. [Hamlin] was getting a draft off me and was able to suck back up to us.
“I thought were in a really good position going into [Turn] 3 and he just had enough air down there to get to the side of us and it was just a race to the line after that. Just really proud of our team. To see the JR Motorsports cars run this well is really good and hopefully we can build on it.”
Sadler came home in third place and emerged from MIS with the series points lead. He also stayed out under caution to end stage 2, garnering an all-important playoff point. The third-place result is his second straight top five, third straight top 10 and 11th top 10 overall in the 2017 season.
“William [Byron] did a tremendous job,” Sadler told reporters post-race. “I probably could’ve done a little better job pushing him. But he did a great job and he has nothing to hang his head about. He was racing one of the best there is in Denny Hamlin and Gibbs equipment and had a legit shot to win.”
Brad Keselowski led a race-high 54 laps in his No. 22 Ford, but failed to win back-to-back races for Team Penske. He won stage 1 of the event and wound up fourth in the race.
Kyle Busch came home in fifth place after battling all afternoon. He and Keselowski made contact before the race was one turn old, sending the No. 18 into the wall and spinning through the grass. The JGR team was able to repair the vehicle enough for Busch to pilot the car to a top-five result.
Ty Dillon, Paul Menard, Ryan Reed, Brandon Jones and Cole Custer rounded out the top-10 finishers. Some other notables include Brennan Poole in 11th, Daniel Hemric in 12th, Brendan Gaughan in 14th, Justin Allgaier in 16th, Matt Tifft in 26th and Michael Annett in 37th.
In the points, Sadler leads JRM teammate Allgaier in the standings by 21. Byron sits third, 72 markers back and is the only other driver within striking distance.
The XFINITY Series now heads to Iowa Speedway next weekend. The American Ethanol E15 250 Presented by Enogen will take place on Saturday evening just past 8:30 p.m. ET. Television coverage will be provided by FOX Sports 1.