Tonight’s Royal Purple 200 presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts got underway at Darlington with teammates #20 Denny Hamlin on pole, and #18 Kyle Busch alongside on the front row- both sporting Z-Lines Design paint schemes. Hamlin would jump to an early lead, as Busch fell back, questioning on radio when the green flag had actually dropped. Yellow came out quickly on lap 2 for an incident involving #62 Brendan Gaughan . The restart on lap 11 brought #12 Justin Allgaier to the front, but Hamlin would take the lead back on lap 22.
Lap 27 brought out caution number two for #21 Clint Bowyer suffering a blown tire and clipping the wall. This would bring the field in to pit, and upon exit, the top-ten were #20 Hamlin, #27 Greg Biffle, #12 Allgaier, #22 Brad Keselowski, #18 Busch, #60 Carl Edwards, #38 Kasey Kahne, #88 Jamie McMurray, #32 Brian Vickers and #98 Paul Menard.
A third yellow came on lap 34 as rookie #1 James Buescher got loose down on the apron and caught #7 Steve Arpin, #43 Scott Lagasse Jr., #87 Joe Nemecheck , #09 Chad McCumbee, and #81 Michael McDowell in the wreckage. Soon after the restart, with Hamlin again out front, Allgaier came in for a cut tire, and entered back on track in the 34th position, 2 laps down.
Lap 58 brought out a caution for rookie #6 Ricky Stenhouse Jr into the wall, and the leaders would take the opportunity to pit again. Off pit road the top-ten were Braun Racing teammates-#38 Kahne, #32 Vickers, and #10 Leffler running 1-2-3, followed by Busch, Hamlin, Keselowski, Edwards, Biffle, #33 Kevin Harvick ,and McMurray. Kahne would lead on the lap 63 restart, but Busch, with four new tires vs. Kahne’s two, took the lead 2 laps later.
Just past the halfway point of this 147 lap event, Biffle got loose up top, and lost the rear end into the wall. Cars would again pit under this caution, and off pit-road Hamlin, #16 Matt Kenseth, Keselowski, Edwards, Busch, Menard #99 Trevor Bayne, Harvick and Vickers made up the top-ten.
With 52 laps to go, Hamlin’s lead still held steady, with Edwards, Keselowski, Busch, Kenseth, Bayne, Vickers, Leffler, Harvick and Menard making up the top-ten. Caution number seven came out for #12 Allgaier, cutting a tire and spinning. The field would pit, except Hamlin, Busch, Leffler and #41 Stanton Barrett. The restart with 22 to go found the top-ten as Hamlin, Busch, Leffler, Barrett, Kahne, Vickers, McMurray, #15 Michael Annett, Edwards, and #66 Steven Wallace. Four laps later, Kenseth would spin, bringing out the eighth yellow.
The restart came on lap 14, and Hamlin charged to the front, with teammate Busch right behind. Two laps later, the #11 Brian Scott started to spin, and Kenseth, with nowhere to go, slammed into the inside wall.
The restart came with 5 to go, and Hamlin jumped to the lead once again, with Busch right on his tail. Hamlin would extend his lead with each of the remaining laps, and go on to win at Darlington. Busch claimed second, followed by McMurray, Kahne, Leffler, Edwards Keselowski, Harvick, Vickers and Menard as the top-ten finishers.
Tonight marked a bet between Z-Lines Designs owners Jim and Monica Sexton. Jim sat in with the #18 guys, Monica with Hamlin’s #20 crew. If Hamlin were to win, bonus money would be given to Operation Helmet, if Busch won, the money would go to Racing for Kids. The Sextons decided Busch and Hamlin did so great tonight, they are giving money to each foundation, so kudos to them!
Hamlin led 111 of the 147 laps tonight, and this marks new #20 crew chief Kevin Kidd’s first NNS victory. In the points-Keselowski still maintains the lead, now by 55 over second-place Kyle Busch.