With a dominant car that led 199 laps Friday night, Denny Hamlin won the Bubba Burger 250 Nationwide Series race when the third caution of the race slowed the action after Hamlin had taken the white flag to start Lap 251.
A day after winning his own late-model charity race at his hometown .75-mile short track, Hamlin covered the field in his No. 20 Toyota and picked up his first Nationwide Series victory in his second start of the season. The win was the 11th of Hamlin’s career.
With seven laps left, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ran out of gas while running second to bring out the second caution of the evening. That enabled Hamlin to pit for fuel and tires. It also set up a two-lap sprint to the finish that took the race one lap pasted its posted distance.
Paul Menard finished second, followed series points leader Justin Allgaier, Elliott Sadler and Brad Keselowski. Those were the only cars scored on the lead lap.
"Obviously, we knew that this was a big weekend for us, to try to get things back on track on the Cup side," said Hamlin, who is 17th in the Sprint Cup standings through eight races after finishing second in the series last year. "I needed a few good nights before the Cup race to kind of get the ball rolling.
"It’s been good so far this week. Obviously, the win last night … and then tonight was a little bit bigger. So, hopefully, we just continue that ladder."
On the final restart on Lap 250, Menard said stayed with Hamlin until he hit fourth gear and lost ground.
"The last restart was wild, for sure," Menard said. "I figured if I could have gotten a fender on him, I might have been able to roll around to the outside, but he got a better restart than me."
Hamlin, who started 11th, took the lead from Carl Edwards, the pole winner, on Lap 44 and expanded it through a cycle of green-flag pit stops. By the time Kelly Bires’ spin in Turn 3 caused the first caution of the race on Lap 124, Hamlin held a nine-second lead over Aric Almirola.
Seven cars were on the lead lap at that point. That number doubled for a restart on Lap 131, thanks to a free pass for Keselowski (as the highest-scored lapped car) and wave-arounds for six other drivers who skipped pit stops in exchange for passage back to the lead lap.
Almirola took a short-lived lead on Lap 132, but Hamlin got back by the No. 88 Chevrolet five laps later and stayed out front as Stenhouse and Menard passed Almirola for second and third, respectively.