FORT WORTH, Texas – On a day when no driver led more than 66 laps at Texas Motor Speedway, it was perfect pit strategy – and not necessarily the fastest race car – that sent Denny Hamlin to victory lane.
Hamlin stayed out long on the final cycle of green flag pit stops, which started with 40 to go, and then used a three-second splash of fuel to wrest control of the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 away from his teammate Erik Jones.
After assuming the top spot when Jones pitted for two tires and fuel with 32 laps left, Hamlin stayed on-track until 16 to go, when he ducked down for his final turn of service on pit road.
Hamlin’s pit crew did the rest with a lightning-quick stop, and when the field finally cycled out, the Chesterfield, Va., native had more than two seconds in hand over Clint Bowyer in second.
The Daytona 500 winner cruised home from there, taking the checkered flag by 2.743 seconds over Bowyer for his second win of the year and the 33rd of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career.
Making Hamlin’s winning drive even more impressive was the fact that he rallied back from two pit-road speeding penalties in the first half of the race, as well as one occasion where he missed pit road.
“Our car was really, really fast. We obviously saw that,” said Hamlin in victory lane. “Once we got out front, we were able to pull away from the pack a little bit. I got a little bit loose when we were racing our teammates, the 18 (Kyle Busch) and the 20 (Jones), so I wasn’t able to be as aggressive as I was earlier in the race … but we had a super-fast car. That’s why we won.
“We tried every way we could to give it away, but we found a way to do it with this FedEx Camry.”
Bowyer hung on for second, marking his best finish of the year, while Daniel Suarez made it two Stewart-Haas Racing cars in the top three with his third-place finish on Sunday.
Jones came back through the field to finish fourth, but felt as though he had a car capable of winning despite bringing out the first caution flag of the day when he spun on lap 15.
“I think that’s three (top-five finishes) in a row for us; I just wish we could cap it off and win one of them here along the way,” said Jones. “We definitely had the car to do it. I think our Craftsman Camry by the end of the race was pretty close to being the best in the field. I put us behind early. Spinning out on lap 15 isn’t really the way to start your day. We had to really dig out of a hole from there.
“You can’t complain too much when it’s your fault; it’s still a good day because we’ve had a rough few weeks, so it’s nice to get back on track,” Jones added. “We knew this was a good spot for us. I would’ve been disappointed if we didn’t run well here. Bristol is one of my favorite places next week, so hopefully we can pick up a few more spots and get that win.”
After starting on the pole and leading 61 laps early on, Jimmie Johnson completed the top five.
William Byron, Aric Almirola, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch were sixth through ninth, respectively, with Kyle Busch fading to 10th after leading a race-high 66 laps but slapping the wall with 54 to go.
Busch was looking for a NASCAR tripleheader sweep for the second time this season, after winning in both the Gander Outdoors Truck Series and the Xfinity Series. He was previously denied at Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway earlier in March.
“The car just got loose there,” noted Busch. “We had made an adjustment to help with the loose issue, but it went the other way for some reason – so something to learn from there. We were in a good position to get the win today with our Interstate Batteries Toyota, but it just wasn’t meant to be.”
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