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A tremendous final four-tire pit stop by the FedEx team vaulted Denny Hamlin from sixth to first for the final restart and he would drive away over the last 10-lap sprint to the finish for Joe Gibbs Racing’s first NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race victory. Meanwhile Matt Kenseth finished fifth, while Kyle Busch earned a solid sixth-place finish in his first start of the season after recovering from injuries suffered at the season opening XFINITY Series race at Daytona, and Carl Edwards took the checkered flag in 17th.
With no points at stake to impact the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings, the annual Sprint All-Star Race is a winner take all event showcasing the sport’s best in a unique 110-lap format.
The evening started with a qualifying session that is unique only to the All-Star Race with drivers making three laps that includes a four-tire pit stop. Hamlin would earn the pole thanks to quick laps, the ability to get in and out of his pit box without any issues and of course a great four-tire stop by his FedEx crew. Edwards was able to earn the 10th starting position, while Kenseth was 17th and Busch slid through his pit box causing a delay that left him to start 19th.
This year’s format for the race included five total segments and 110 total laps. The first three segments each included 25 laps with optional pit stops following each segment. A mandatory pit stop followed a fourth 25-lap segment. Order before those pit stops was determined by the average finish from each of the first four segments. Then all teams entered the pits in that order and how they returned to the track after a four-tire stop will determine how they line up for the final 10-lap dash to the finish.
Hamlin started the No. 11 FedEx Camry on the pole and jumped out to the lead before giving way to the 5 car and settling for an opening segment run of second. He would earn an average finish of sixth following the first four 25-lap segments and that is how he came down pit road for that final mandatory four-tire stop. FedEx delivered again with incredible speed allowing Hamlin to restart in the top spot for the final 10-lap run to the finish. Hamlin would use a tremendous restart to clear the field and then held off the competition to give JGR its first-ever All-Star Race win.
Certainly the biggest storyline entering the race was Kyle Busch, who returned to the track for the first time since suffering an injury in the season-opening XFINITY Race in Daytona. Busch, who missed the first 11 Sprint Cup races of the season, announced earlier this week that he would return to run the All-Star Race and he would not disappoint behind the wheel of the No. 18 M&Ms Red Nose Day Camry. Busch would start 19th but managed to finish 14th in the opening segment, followed with a seventh-place finish in segment two. He would receive a speeding penalty on pit road prior to the third segment and an unscheduled stop for a loose wheel would leave him back in 19th. He would recover to finish ninth in the final segment however leaving him with an average finish of 13th. That is how the Red Nose Day Toyota would enter the pits for a mandatory four-tire stop and his M&Ms crew delivered by gaining five positions. Busch would gain two more spots over the final ten lap run to finish sixth.
Matt Kenseth started the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota in 17th and would earn an average finish of eighth prior to the mandatory four-tire stop after the fourth segment. The Dollar General crew would gain him another spot on pit road and Kenseth would earn two more over the final 10-lap run to the checkered flag claiming a solid fifth-place run.
Carl Edwards started the No. 19 ARRIS Toyota in the 10th position and was seeking to earn the best possible average finish and it appeared that he was going to line up in the top five for the final 10-lap run to the checkered flag, but NASCAR ruled he was too fast exiting pit road. That left Edwards to restart back in 18th and he would go on to finish the night in 17th.
Hamlin captured the win and was followed by Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, and Kenseth rounded out the top five. The only four cautions of the night occurred at the scheduled time following each 25-lap segment.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will remain in Charlotte another week for Coca-Cola 600 next Sunday, May 24. Fox will broadcast the race live with coverage starting at 6 PM (race begins at 6:15 PM ET).
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