For much of the closing laps in Sunday’s Cup Series race at Michigan, it looked like Kyle Busch was the best shot at giving Joe Gibbs Racing its first win of the year.
But through a combination of three restarts in the last 20 laps and teams on different pit strategy, Denny Hamlin wound up giving JGR its best result of the race, finishing fourth after a battle with Joey Logano.
Hamlin earned just his third top five of the season despite being second on the final restart, on the inside lane below eventual race winner Kyle Larson.
“I knew I was going to have a tough time on the bottom,” Hamlin said. “Everyone did have a tough time on the bottom, so I tried to do my best and that’s all I had.”
Hamlin told Fox Sports 1 anybody restarting in the lower groove was a “sitting duck.”
“The biggest thing is you try to minimize how many spots you lose versus how much you gain, but when you’re sitting there side-by-side for the lead, you’re going to try to do everything you can,” Hamlin said. “I tried to carry speed in there and obviously got sucked around there and you just try to minimize your losses at that point.”
Hamlin had his No. 11 Toyota in the top most of the day, finishing Stage 1 in fourth and Stage 2 in seventh. But Hamlin had to fight back to the top five after a bad pit stop sent him just outside the top 10.
He earned his first top five since the Coke 600 and his best result since finishing third at Richmond
JGR is still winless since Carl Edward won at Texas Motor Speedway in November.
“(JGR’s Toyotas are) fast, but it’s circumstances – cautions falling at the right time and all that stuff matters,” Hamlin said. “We just hadn’t had the breaks we needed, but overall we’re making improvements.”
Sam Hornish Jr. looks to return to Iowa Speedway and win the June event for the second consecutive year, but several others, including points leader Elliott Sadler and rookie teammate William Byron, look for their first series win of the year. Justin Allgaier and Ryan Reed seek their second victory of the season.
Here are the particulars for tonight’s Xfinity race:
(All times are Eastern)
START: Emily Skor, CEO Growth Energy, will give the command to start engines at 8:37 p.m. Green flag is set for 8:44 p.m.
DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 250 laps (218.75 miles) around the 7/8-mile oval.
STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 60. Stage 2 ends on Lap 120.
PRERACE SCHEDULE: The Xfinity garage opens at 2:30 p.m. The driver/crew chief meeting is at 7:30 p.m. Driver introductions are at 8:10 p.m.
NATIONAL ANTHEM: Specialist Michelle Monroe, Iowa National Guard 34th Army Band, will perform the Anthem at 8:31 p.m.
TV/RADIO: Fox Sports 1 will broadcast the race. Its coverage begins at 8 p.m. Motor Racing Network’s broadcast on radio and at mrn.com begins at 8 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.
FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts 70 degrees at race time with a 1 percent chance of rain at the start of the race.
LAST TIME: Sam Hornish Jr. led 183 of 250 laps to win this event a year ago. Ty Dillon was second. Brad Keselowski was third. Erik Jones won the most recent Iowa race last July, leading 154 of 250 laps. Ty Dillon was second. Elliott Sadler placed third.
STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying begins at 6:15 p.m.
NASCAR has been sending its Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series to Iowa Speedway since 2009, but its premier series has never held a race at the .875-mile track in Newton, Iowa.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kyle Larson would like that to change sooner rather than later.
Stenhouse and Larson spoke to the Des Moines Register ahead of this weekend’s NASCAR races at the track.
The Roush Fenway Racing driver and former Iowa winner expressed enthusiasm at Iowa someday hosting the Monster Energy All-Star Race.
“To see how much support that the Iowa Speedway gets from the fans, it’s pretty incredible,” Stenhouse said. “I’d love to get the All-Star race here.”
The exhibition has been held at Charlotte Motor Speedway every year but one since it was introduced in 1985. It was at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1986.
But with lackluster races and fan turnout in recent years for the event at the 1.5-mile track, support has been growing to possible hold the event at other tracks.
“I would like that better than Charlotte, for sure. … I’d be down for it,” Larson told the newspaper of having the event in Iowa.
Iowa Speedway opened in 2006 and was bought by NASCAR in 2013.
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Today we reach the mid-point of this weekend’s busy NASCAR schedule.
The NASCAR Cup Series will have a short day at Sonoma Raceway, with only qualifying on the agenda at 2:45 p.m. ET.
The NASCAR Xfinity Series will have the busier day at Iowa Speedway, with qualifying at 6:15 p.m. ET, followed by the American Ethanol e15 200 at 8:30 p.m. ET. Sam Hornish Jr. is the defending winner of this race, and returns to try and make it two in a row, racing this year for Team Penske.
Here’s today’s schedule (all times are Eastern):
10 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. Cup garage open
2:45 p.m. – Cup qualifying (multi-vehicle, two rounds) (FS1, Performance Racing Network)
2:30 p.m. – Xfinity garage open
6:15 p.m. – Xfinity qualifying (multi-vehicle, three rounds) (Tape delayed at 7 p.m. ET on FS1)
7:30 p.m. – Xfinity driver/crew chief meeting
8 p.m. – Xfinity driver introductions
8:30 p.m. – American Ethanol e15 200 Xfinity Series race (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR radio)
John Hunter Nemechek led the final six laps to win the Camping World Truck Series’ M&M’s 200 at Iowa Speedway.
It’s his second win in two weeks.
Nemechek beat out Johnny Sauter, Brandon Jones, Grant Engfinger and Christopher Bell.
Click here for race results.