Sprint Cup regular and former NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Austin Dillon was in almost complete command at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday afternoon, as he raced to his fourth Xfinity win and his second of the year with victory in the Hisense 300 after leading for 163 of the 200 laps of the race.
"This is really cool to win in my hometown. My whole family was here and a lot of our friends, this is really awesome," said the 25-year-old who was born in nearby Lewisville, North Carolina.
CLICK: Full NASCAR Xfinity Series race results from Charlotte Motor Speedway
Dillon started the race from pole position for Richard Childress Racing (his 14th pole in 87 starts and fourth in 2015) after recording a time of 29.250s (184.615mph) in the final round of qualifying at the 1.5-mile track earlier in the day, putting him 0.035s ahead of Roush Fenway Racing's Darrell Wallace Jr.; Dillon's team mate Brian Scott started from the second row alongside Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin.
It was the RCR pair that shot off into a big lead, quickly dropping both Wallace and Hamlin. Dillon in particular was looking in peerless form over the opening laps, eventually getting four seconds down the road from Scott and starting to put backmarkers a lap down as early as lap 14. After almost half an hour of green flag running Dillon had lapped almost half the 40-strong field during which time there has been little change in the top ten, with Kyle Larson in fifth ahead of Kevin Harvick, Ty Dillon, Erik Jones, Kasey Kahne and Elliott Sadler.
The first caution of the day came out on lap 48 for a spin into the wall for Jamie Dick after the engine let go in the Viva Motorsports #55, nicely timed to enable the rest of the field to make their first pit stops of the day under the ensuing yellows. Dillon and Scott kept their front row positions for the restart and Scott even got a quick look at the lead down the inside before Dillon put him firmly in his place, while Larson was able to move into third ahead of Wallace, Harvick, Hamlin, Kahne, Chase Elliott and Elliott Sadler, with Jones suffering a lack of pace and dropping out of the top ten in the next stint despite taking a full set of tyres. In fact it was his JGR team mate Hamlin was was forced to cut short this run with an unscheduled pit top for a loose tyre.
Larson's momentum carried him past Scott into second place but he was still four seconds away from Dillon who seemed uncatchable. He briefly relinquished the lead for a round of green-flag pit stops at the halfway point of the race, but had just resumed his ordained at the front when a caution came out on lap 111 for debris after Brendan Gaughan hit the wall in turn 4 after having a tyre go down. Larson was also out of the running, heading to the garage area with a broken rear shock mount.
Harvick and Daniel Suarez both stayed out while Dillon won the race off pit road ahead of Hamlin who had worked his way back into contention, only for it to seem about to turn to dust for a second time when he was handed a penalty for the crew coming over the pit wall too early. The team appealed, the video footage analysed - and NASCAR reversed its call, allowing Hamlin to keep his position alongside Dillon for the green flag.
Despite running on older tyres, Harvick initially managed to hold on to the lead when the race resumed - but not for long. Dillon was charging and would not be denied, and he was back in front again on lap 123. The only driver able to hold on to Dillon's coat tails was Wallace but even he soon fell over a second off the #33. The leaders were just preparing for their final visit to pit road when the call was made easier by the third and final caution of the day for Kyle Fowler hitting the wall in turn 1. Dillon won the race off pit road but the big winners were Hamlin and JR Motorsport's Regan Smith who leapt into second and third ahead of Wallace, Suarez, Chase Elliott and series points leader Chris Buescher.
That gave Hamlin the chance to successfully wrest the lead from Dillon in a three-wide move at the restart on lap 167, with Kahne and Smith moving up to second and third as Dillon got shuffled back, the first and only time all afternoon that he risked losing control of the race and with it his shot at a win.
"I was just messing with my grandpa, I knew it would make his heart skip a beat," said Dillon afterwards, indicating in the direction of team boss and family patriarch Richard Childress.
Childress needn't have worried too much. While Hamlin was working hard to fight off Kahne, Dillon quickly checked his fall and got back around Smith for third place; then on lap 177 he pushed his way past Kahne for second and set his sights on hunting down Hamlin to reclaim his crown. That inevitable occurrence finally came to pass following an epic battle between the pair when lapped traffic finally gave Dillon the edge he needed to get by with just 14 laps to go. Once he hit clean air Dillon was able to engage warp speed and pull away from Hamlin and the rest to the tune of a 2.692 lead by the time the chequered flag welcomed him to victory lane.
"This thing drove so good. It was a heck of a race there with Denny at the end and Kasey. I had to go right there in lapped traffic to make the pass for the lead," he said of the climax to the race. "When he [Denny] went up to the top, I said, 'Here is my shot' ... I knew if I didn't hurry up and get in front of him right there, the tyres might equalize [in terms of performance]."
Despite not being able to keep up with Dillon, Hamlin had more than enough to hold on to second place ahead of Kahne, Smith, Wallace and Suarez.
"The Xfinity side, the RCR cars have the advantage over everyone and just Austin did a great job coming back there. Congrats to those guys," said Hamlin. "I'm happy with a second-place finish considering what I thought we had for a car all day. I thought we were probably a fifth to sixth-place car at best, but we just – we were able to get a good restart and try to hold those guys off, but he just had a little bit too much speed for me."
"It was a good run," said Wallace, who was the highest-placed Ford runner of the afternoon. "It was a top-five run for us, our first one of the year ... We just need a little bit more. Our pit stops need some work, but we'll build off of it and take this top five into Dover and really have some fun next week."
"Definitely a good day, our first time ever being at Charlotte Motor Speedway," said sixth-place man Suarez. "We had a hard time in qualifying – maybe one of my worst qualifying runs of the year at 19th. I believe it was the first time we didn't make it for the third round.
"Anyway, I've very happy with everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing," he added. "All these guys, they don't know how to give up and that's something that is really good and I'm learning to be just like that as well. Thanks to that and all the hard work on pit road and those good adjustments, we ended up in a strong P6."
Seventh place at Charlotte means that Austin's younger brother Ty Dillon closes to within four points of Roush Fenway Racing's Chris Buescher in the NASCAR Xfinity Series standings, after Buescher ended up just outside the top ten this week.
"It wasn't a bad day for our Roush Performance Mustang, but we obviously want to be better," said Buescher. "Charlotte has not been a good track to me yet, but it will be all right. We'll brush it off and go on to Dover. I love Dover, so we'll get them there.
"We're still leading, we didn't lose that much, but I hate points racing to begin with. We'll keep taking it and knowing that we expect to run top-five every week. If we do that, the points will fall just the way we need them to. That will be our plan is to step our game up at these places a little bit because at the short tracks we know we've got a really good Ford Mustang when we go back to those places."
Chase Elliott remains in third ahead of Darrell Wallace Jr., while Regan Smith and Elliott Sadler both move up as Brian Scott drops two places to seventh after finishing down in 20th having been penalised for speeding on pit row and sent to the back of the field.
In owners' standings, the Penske #22's lead at the top is reduced to 63 points over the RCR #33 after Ryan Blaney finished in tenth place.
The Xfinity Series is back in action next weekend, with the teams heading to the "Monster Mile" at Dover International Speedway for the Buckle Up 200, the 12th round of the 2015 season.
Full race results, plus qualifying and practice speeds and full Xfinity Series championship standings.
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