Denny Hamlin roars to first career Sprint All-Star Race victory and a cool $1 million prize

8 Comments

Denny Hamlin won his first – as well as Toyota’s and Joe Gibbs Racing’s first – Sprint All-Star Race Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Hamlin held off a surge by eventual runner-up Kevin Harvick midway through the final 10-lap segment and powered his way to victory and the $1 million first prize.

Harvick won $250,000 for his second-place showing.

Kurt Busch finished third (and won $150,000), followed by Jeff Gordon, making his 22nd and final appearance in the All-Star Race. Gordon is retiring after this season.

All 10 laps in the fifth and final segment were run under green flag conditions. The field was set upon average finish in the first four segments.

Kasey Kahne won the first segment, Brad Keselowski won the second and third segments and Kurt Busch won the fourth segment, setting up the 10-lap sprint for the win and the $1 million prize.

Hamlin made it very clear from the start of the segment that he was not to be denied. When the green flag fell, he immediately pulled away and never looked back.

Harvick got close to Hamlin’s bumper, cutting the lead to .011 of a second, but would get no closer and eventually trailed away in the final two laps.

Matt Kenseth finished fifth, followed by Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Tenth through 20th were AJ Allmendinger, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle, Aric Almirola, Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray, Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick.

How Hamlin won: Getting the jump on the start of the 10-lap final segment was the trick for Hamlin. He quickly powered away from Harvick and Busch and never looked back. Busch said after the race that he thought Hamlin may have jumped the start. “We restarted second. We’re going to have to go to the tape and look at it and see if Denny went too soon. … His car went two car lengths before in my mind. We didn’t finish worst than fifth in any of our segments, we did our job and I was asleep at the wheel on the (final) restart.”

Who else had a good day: Even though he started back in the field in the first segment, Harvick had one of the best cars in the overall race. That’s why he wound up second. But Hamlin’s car was just too powerful to catch in such a short 10-lap sprint. Here’s what Harvick had to say after the race: “We had a real fast race car. I put us in a hole after qualifying, but a real fast race car was able to dig us out of it. So, it was a lot of fun, we just came up a little short.” … Also having a good day was Kyle Busch, who finished sixth in his first race back after sustaining a broken right leg and fractured left foot 84 days earlier in the Xfinity Series season opener at Daytona. Busch said after the race, “We had a great race tonight. It was really great for us. I was comfortable in the car, everything worked well for me. I just felt like getting back into home. It was definitely progress for what’s going to happen and am looking forward to being able to run 400 laps around here, 600 miles, and get a good finish.”

Who had a bad day: Danica Patrick qualified eighth, but was forced to start at the back of the field due to an engine change. Unfortunately, she suffered a blown engine shortly into the fourth segment and ended up last in the 20-driver field. … Also having a bad night was Patrick’s boss, Tony Stewart. Even though he finished all 110 laps, Stewart had a poor run, finishing 19th.

Notables: Hamlin becomes only the fifth pole-sitter to have gone on to win in the All-Star Race’s 31-year history. … What is Denny Hamlin going to do with his $1 million prize? “I have a little daughter at home that would like to go to college, so let’s save that for the college fund.” … In his 22nd and final All-Star Race, Jeff Gordon really appreciated the fans’ affection for him. “Certainly, the introductions, seeing all the fans holding the signs with the 24 on it, having (wife) Ingrid and the kids and my mom and dad there was amazing. Those were all surprises to me. I asked my parents why were they there because I never see them at driver introductions (he said with a smile), and now I know why. It was very, very special and something I’ll never forget. I’m also glad we had a very solid performance overall as a team.”

Quote of the day: “You want to win the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400, the Coca-Cola 600 and you want to be an All-Star. … Can’t say enough for this whole team and everyone from Toyota, getting their first All-Star victory, as well. This is just a big day. … This is just an unbelievable experience.” – Sprint All-Star Race winner Denny Hamlin.

What’s next: Coca-Cola 600, May 25, 6 pm ET, Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Follow @JerryBonkowski