CONCORD, N.C. – Denny Hamlin gave Joe Gibbs Racing its first victory in NASCAR's Sprint All-Star race by using clean air to hold off Kevin Harvick at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Hamlin won the pole for Saturday night's race, was decent through the first four 25-lap segments, but was slotted sixth based on average finish for the mandatory final pit stop. His pit team got him back on track in first. Hamlin was aided when Brad Keselowski, who raced Hamlin off pit road but exited second, was flagged for speeding.
Keselowski dropped to the rear of the field — taking him out of contention — and putting Kurt Busch, Harvick and Kasey Kahne right behind Hamlin's No. 11 car.
Hamlin controlled the restart and jumped out to a huge lead. Harvick moved into second and tried to chase down the leader. Every driver in the 20-car field wanted to be out front for the final 10-lap sprint to the finish because NASCAR's current rules package has shown that the leader, in clean air, is very difficult to pass.
Although Harvick briefly closed the gap, he had to get out of the throttle when his car drifted too far up the track, and he never got close enough to even attempt a move for the lead.
Hamlin collected the $1 million prize while giving manufacturer Toyota its first victory in the All-Star race and Gibbs its first win in 24 appearances.
"Everybody wants to be an All-Star," Hamlin said from victory lane.
Harvick finished second and was followed by Busch, who believed Hamlin jumped the restart.
"We're going to have to go to the tape and look at it to see if Denny went too soon," Busch said. "I was asleep at the wheel on the restart."
Jeff Gordon finished fourth in his final All-Star race, followed by Matt Kenseth.
Kyle Busch was sixth in his first race back since he was injured in a February crash at Daytona. Busch missed the first 11 Sprint Cup races of the season after breaking his right leg and left foot when he crashed into a concrete wall in the Xfinity Series opener. He returned for the non-points All-Star race as a tuneup for next Sunday's Coca-Cola 600, the longest race of the season.
Kahne was seventh, followed by Joey Logano and then Keselowski, who said he had to hustle off pit road on the final stop to have any shot at the win.
"I knew when I came out of my pit stall and the 11 was pulling out with me that I either beat him to that line or lose the race," Keselowski said. "I told my crew chief I'd rather go down swinging than take a strike and wonder what might have been. I swung and missed."