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Bad Luck “Rains” on Hamlin at Bristol

Punctured Tire Ends Strong Run for Z-Line Designs Team

Denny Hamlin
Denny Hamlin
When it rains, it pours. At least that was the case for Denny Hamlin in Saturday’s rain-delayed and rain-shortened Sharpie Mini 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.

The driver of the No. 20 Z-Line Designs Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) endured a punctured right front tire on lap 70 that forced an unscheduled green flag pit stop. And after leading the first 37 laps and racing within the top-three, the tire proved to be a deflating experience for the whole team, as Hamlin fell three laps off the pace, and lost another two laps when he had to return to pit road to fix a missing lugnut on the right rear tire.

Hamlin passed the leader during a restart on lap 95 to get one of those laps back, and rallied to as high as 26th before rains washed over the .533-mile oval on lap 164. Drivers ran under caution until lap 171, when NASCAR red-flagged the event. With the race past its halfway mark and rain continuing to fall, NASCAR called the race official 129 laps short of its scheduled 300-lap distance.

“It was a tough day for the Z-Line Designs team,” said Hamlin, who started second as the field was set by 2007 car owner points when qualifying was rained-out. “We must have run over something that caused the punctured tire. We had a car that was pretty good and we could keep up with those guys even when we had older tires, but we never got a chance to prove it because of the green flag stop.”

The race marked the third week in a row that bad luck struck the No. 20 Nationwide Series entry. Hamlin’s JGR teammate, Kyle Busch, dominated last weekend’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway by leading five times for a race-high 153 laps. But a broken right front shock on lap 171 sent Busch and his No. 20 ride hard into the outside wall, effectively ending any shot at winning.

One week earlier at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Hamlin’s other JGR teammate, Tony Stewart, had the No. 20 car up front as he led twice for 61 laps before an accident just past the mid-point of the race knocked him out of the event.

The No. 20 team’s last win came via Stewart, who drove the No. 20 Z-Line Designs Toyota to a powerful victory in the series’ second race of the season at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., by leading three times for a race-high 136 laps. It marked Stewart’s second straight win in the No. 20 car, as he won the season-opener at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.

Hamlin’s 26th-place finish in the Sharpie Mini 300 dropped the No. 20 car two spots to sixth in the championship owner standings. The No. 20 car now sits five points behind the fifth-place No. 99 Toyota of Michael Waltrip Racing, and 88 points behind the leading No. 33 car of Kevin Harvick Inc.

There were seven caution periods for 37 laps, with 10 drivers failing to finish the 171-lap race.

Clint Bowyer scored his sixth career Nationwide Series victory and his first of the season by winning the Sharpie Mini 300. Kasey Kahne finished second, while David Reutimann, Brad Keselowski and Mike Bliss rounded out the top-five. Jason Leffler, Kevin Harvick, David Ragan, David Stremme and Mike Wallace comprised the remainder of the top-10.

The next event on the Nationwide Series schedule is the March 22 Pepsi 300 at Nashville (Tenn.) Superspeedway. The race starts at 3 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by ESPN beginning with its pre-race show at 2 p.m. The race will also be broadcast live on SIRIUS Satellite Radio Channel 128.

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