Camry driver Denny Hamlin was victorious in the NASCAR XFINITY Series (NXS) race at South Carolina’s Darlington Raceway on Saturday afternoon.
• Hamlin started from the pole and led the field four times for 33 laps (of 148) to take the checkered flag.
• The victory marks Hamlin’s fifth NXS triumph at Darlington – with all five coming from the pole position – and his second NXS victory of 2017 in four starts.
• Camry driver Erik Jones also recorded a top-five result with a finish of fourth on the 1.366-mile track. The result marks Jones’ seventh top-five result in 12 NXS starts this year.
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 18 Sport Clips Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
How does it feel to win today at Darlington Raceway?
“I’ve got to thank Gordon (Logan, CEO of Sport Clips) and everyone from Sport Clips really for giving me the chance to come out here and run. I can’t thank them enough. Hisense for giving me a few races this year. I love running the XFINITY Series. I’ve got to thank Interstate, Toyota, all of JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing), Coca-Cola, the Jordan brand, the NASCAR fans, Toyota – it’s just been a great weekend. You know, we definitely didn’t have the best handling car at the beginning of the race. We got it better there at the end. I actually was hating it that that caution came out because I thought I could have ran down the 41 (Kevin Harvick). It turns out that we made it a little bit more exciting.”
What happened on that last exciting restart?
“Yeah, it definitely was. I didn’t anticipate the 22 (Joey Logano) getting back to us like that, but he did and hats off to them and they didn’t have probably the fastest car, but they had great pit stops all day and put themselves in position and then I knew going down the backstretch that he was going to have inside position. It was up to me then to back up the corner, let him slide up the race track and slide back around him on the exit, so it takes a lot of patience, but glad it all worked out for us and this whole Sport Clips team.”
What was the difference between your Camry in the middle of the race and at the end?
“Well, I was really loose all day long and that really hampered us on the short runs, but we got our car much, much better there at the end and we were able to battle with those guys and I thought we were going to have a great battle with the 41 (Kevin Harvick) there with 10 to go, but the caution came out and it just made it exciting in a different way.”
Does it mean something to you to have so many wins on a driver’s track?
“Yeah, I mean I definitely take a lot of pride in it and this is where I got my very first XFINITY start for Joe Gibbs Racing, so every time I come here there’s a little bit more pride on the line.”
What has made you so successful in this series here?
“Well, I think a lot of it is there’s really one line to run through (Turns) 1 and 2, so you’re always in dirty air through 1 and 2. You’ve got a few options there in (Turns) 3 and 4, but for the most part it’s a tough race track to pass on even if you have a faster car, so, yeah, track position is important. Pit stalls are always important here, but really all these cars are so evenly matched each and every week that any advantage that you can have and the further front that you are the better air you’re going to have, the faster you’re going to go and so I think that’s what the key is – unless you get a really good restart like we did at the end. The easiest way to pass is on the restarts and that’s where we got it done.”
Should we expect anything different tomorrow night with restarts?
“You know, I think it’s so circumstantial. I thought for a few times that I started on the outside – that one time I got beat and it was like, ‘Uh, I’m not sure this is the right way,’ but it’s just who can get to Turn 1 with their nose ahead has usually got a big advantage. It’s hard to say which lane I thought prevailed. I thought it was probably 50-50 throughout the day. Maybe the high line had one or two advantages, but really it’s just about getting that good jump, so I don’t think it’s as beneficial being the leader at this type of race track when you have that – when you go into Turn 1 and have one lane – but tomorrow I think with the tire limitations, we had it today that we didn’t know when to take tires and when not to because you only have a certain amount. You know if you have five lap on your tires and you five laps to go, you’re probably going to pit again, so we tried to save tires and luckily had one more set there, but tomorrow will definitely be a tire war. I believe the last few times here, we’ve had guys run out of tires, so it’s – it’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out.”
ERIC PHILLIPS, crew chief, No. 18 Sport Clips Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
How does it feel to go to victory lane at Darlington?
“That’s pretty cool. Denny (Hamlin) did a heck of a job. I kind of screwed up and got us too free yesterday – I knew it last night and I just didn’t fix it. We got it dialed in there at the end and he did a hell of a job on that restart. I hope everybody enjoyed it – they put on a heck of a show down the backstretch and luckily we’re on top with this Sport Clips Camry. These guys have done an awesome job. I’ve got thank JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) for giving me this opportunity this year and I’m having a lot of fun.”
STEVE DeSOUZA, EVP of XFINITY & Development, Joe Gibbs Racing
What are your thoughts on the win today?
“Yeah, I mean obviously I think when you look at Denny (Hamlin) and his history here and it’s just a special event, as it is this year and the last couple years with the throwback schemes and with our good friends Sport Clips – been with Joe Gibbs Racing now for a long time – and for Denny and for Eric (Phillips, crew chief), you know. Just have them come do the job they did this weekend really off the trailer. As Eric said, they struggled a little bit here and there and Denny said the same thing during the race, but they were able to get their act together pretty well and, you know, Denny’s persistent here. He’s got a gift for this place and it shows up here and on the Cup side particular as well. For Joe Gibbs Racing, obviously we’re real please with all of our teams this weekend, particularly the job Denny and Erik (Jones) did.”
ERIK JONES, No. 20
Finishing Position: 4th
How was your race?
“Well, it was okay. We had a decent car and we stayed up in the top-five for most of the day and the Reser’s Camry was good. We just – we never quite found the speed we needed to run with the 18 (Denny Hamlin) and maybe the 22 (Joey Logano). The 41 (Kevin Harvick) was really fast too. There was one long run where I thought we had a shot to maybe get up there and do something before that last restart, but just didn’t have a short run car for sure and we came down to that and just didn’t work out.”
MATT TIFFT, Ron Jon Surf Shop Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Finishing Position: 40th
What happened that ended you race?
“Well, I mean, there’s tight racing, but coming – just taking the green, just taking the first lap, you don’t expect to get taken out and I was in the high line minding my own business up there and just got taken out coming to the second lap, so it’s frustrating. Our Ron Jons Camry was really fast this weekend and I honestly thought we had a good shot at having a really good top-10 or a top-five run today, but unfortunately never got to see it. You know, I can take getting spun for the win at another place, but, man, first lap is just – it’s a tough pill to swallow.”