Denny Hamlin won the 33rd Annual VFW Sports Clip Help a Hero 200 Saturday afternoon at Darlington Raceway, claiming his 14th series victory in 152 XFINITY Series starts. It marked his third victory and eighth top-10 finish in 2015.
Hamlin led 117 of 147 laps, dominating the race with a seven second lead on the field by Lap 20. Kevin Harvick was Hamlin’s biggest threat on the track but was only able to take the lead three times for 15 laps. However, a mistake on pit road after a caution on Lap 72 left Hamlin short on fuel which meant he would have to pit early for the next pit stop.
Kyle Busch, who had started in 40th also proved to be a factor in the VFW Sports Clip Help a Hero 200. By lap 17 he had moved into the top 10 and at the end of the competition caution, Busch came out of the pits in fifth place.
Hamlin made his final pit stop on Lap 123 and with fresher tires was leaving everyone behind, forcing his rivals to pit. Daniel Suarez, who was competing for the Dash 4 Cash remained on the track with old tires, conserving fuel, and was able to hold the lead for 14 laps. But luck was on Hamlin’s side as the remainder of the race remained caution-free giving him enough time to overtake Suarez for the victory.
Kyle Busch also passed Suarez for second place giving Joe Gibbs Racing a 1-2-3 finish. The third place finish was enough for Suarez to win the Dash-4-Cash $100,000 bonus as the top finisher among those eligible.
After the race, Hamlin referred to not getting enough fuel as a “blessing in disguise.”
“We didn’t get the car completely full on the last stop. We had to short pit there,” he continued, “and with that short pit, I scraped the wall 10 laps before we pitted and I thought I had significant damage and almost a cut tire so it forced us to pit road early. Then the only kind of thing that kind of burns you there is getting caught on the racetrack when a caution comes out.”
“We were able to get through that. I didn’t think anyone could make it on fuel and then I saw those guys stretching it. The pace that we were running I knew it would be close,” Hamlin said.
“It was obviously high drama but, he noted, ”Joe Gibbs Racing obviously had pretty good odds there at the end of the race.”
Kyle Busch summarized the race, stating, “We passed a lot of cars today and kept it in one piece. Fought hard there at the end and just pit strategy kinda got mixed up a little bit there. Denny I guess was short on fuel, didn’t get it full the previous stop so stopped early and that won him the race. It got him away from all of us far enough that he could just kind of cruise there those final laps, didn’t really have to push hard and just kinda bide his time and just allow us to catch him. There wasn’t enough time for us to catch him so we come home second.”
Kevin Harvick finished fourth followed by Chris Buescher in fifth. Buescher remains the XFINITY Series points leader, increasing his lead to 29 points over Ty Dillon who finished 15th. Chase Elliott is third in points, 35 behind Buescher after engine problems led to a 24th place result.
The NASCAR XFINITY Series heads to Richmond International Raceway for its next race on Sept. 11 with television coverage on NBCSN.