With a dramatic last-lap pass of rookie William Byron, Denny Hamlin won the NASCAR Xfinity Series Irish Hills 250 at Michigan International Speedway on Saturday.
According to Fox: NASCAR, Hamlin's win was the closest ever at Michigan in the Xfinity Series:
The Cup Series regular denied the 19-year-old Byron his first career Xfinity Series win and also beat a bevy of big names, as seen in this rundown of the top 10:
1. Denny Hamlin
2. William Byron
3. Elliott Sadler
4. Brad Keselowski
5. Kyle Busch
6. Ty Dillon
7. Paul Menard
8. Ryan Reed
9. Brandon Jones
10. Cole Custer
Hamlin led 34 of 125 laps and scored his first Xfinity Series win of the season.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. put Byron's performance into perspective:
Justin Allgaier entered the race with a one-point lead over Elliott Sadler in the points standings, but Sadler moved back to the top thanks to a third-place finish:
1. Elliott Sadler: Leader
2. Justin Allgaier: -21 (1 win)
3. William Byron: -72
4. Daniel Hemric: -121
5. Brennan Poole: -134
6. Ryan Reed: -135 (1 win)
7. Darrell Wallace Jr.: -139
8. Cole Custer: -151
9. Matt Tifft: -165
10. Michael Annett: -187
11. Blake Koch: -197
12. Dakoda Armstrong: -217
Kyle Busch started on the pole, and because of his usual dominance in the Xfinity Series, it was widely assumed he would be the driver to beat.
The narrative changed seconds after the green flag waved, however, as Busch spun out and nearly crashed after Brad Keselowski made contact:
According to Lee Spencer of Motorsport.com, Busch was furious with Keselowski after the incident:
With Busch shuffled back to the end of the field, Keselowski took control and easily won the first stage of the event.
Shortly after the restart to kick off the second stage, another caution came out when Michael Annett, JJ Yeley, Brandon Jones and Ben Kennedy got involved in an accident:
That mixed things up and allowed Cole Custer to lead 15 laps, but Keselowski regained the lead and seemed destined to cruise to another stage win.
Caution came out for debris on Lap 56, though, and while many decided to pit, Sadler stayed out.
That decision paid dividends, as he held off the competition and won the second stage to pick up a valuable playoff point.
Keselowski's fresh tires allowed him to pass Sadler early in the third and final stage for the lead, but another caution for debris on Lap 82 dropped Keselowski back once again.
Hamlin won the race off pit road and went on to lead the next 27 laps until yet another yellow waved for debris.
Most of the leaders decided to stay on the track, which allowed Hamlin and Keselowski to restart in the top two spots.
On the restart, however, Byron pushed Keselowski ahead and passed him to take the lead with less than 10 laps to go:
Byron's Cinderella run was quickly interrupted when Matt Tifft spun out to signal another caution with five laps remaining in the race.
Although the rookie continued to hold off Hamlin after the restart, the veteran's aggressiveness paid off in the form of a victory:
The close call was heartbreaking for Byron since a win would have locked him into the playoffs, but he did manage to solidify his No. 3 spot in the standings with a strong run.
For Hamlin, taking the checkered flag could be huge for his confidence since he has had a somewhat pedestrian Cup Series season.
Hamlin is ninth in those standings and still without a win, but he should enter Sunday's Cup Series race at Michigan with plenty of momentum on his side.