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Hamlin leaves best pit stall to teammate Busch

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Denny Hamlin‘s crew chief put Joe Gibbs Racing ahead of his driver as he opted for the second-best pit stall for the NASCAR Cup Series season finale Sunday, allowing JGR driver and championship contender Kyle Busch to have the best pit stall.

Hamlin had the first pick Saturday because he won the pole Friday, while Busch had the second pick because he had qualified second at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Team owner Joe Gibbs said this was just another part of pre-race teamwork.

“We have a championship on the line, and what we’d love to do is win that championship,” Gibbs said Saturday morning. “If there’s any criticism or anything, it goes to me.

“We work as a team getting ready. … At the race shop, we all work together to be the best we can be. We get here, we share information to try to be the best we can be. Once the race starts — you’ve watched us — it’s every man for himself. At the end of races, we’ve wrecked each other and everything else.”

NASCAR said the choice did not violate its 100 percent rule, which requires each driver to race for the best finish possible, because the race hasn’t started.

The last stall at the end of pit road is considered the best because it is a clear shot out and a driver can typically accelerate all the way to the pit out line without worrying about going over the pit-road speed limit. Hamlin’s team picked the fourth stall from the end of pit road, which has an opening (to allow damaged vehicles to drive into the garage) between his stall and the next stall.

“We’re here to win the race, and honestly Stall 1 is an advantage but not the ultimate advantage,” said Hamlin’s crew chief, Mike Wheeler. “Being on the pole and leading the field is giant. Stall 4 is actually a really good stall. … Ultimately, we want to do all we can to win races.

“But we realize for everyone at JGR and all the sponsors included that it is a big deal for the 18 [of Busch] to win the championship too.”

Busch, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick are the four championship contenders, and the top finisher among those four Sunday wins the title.

Logano is in Stall 3, just past the opening where Hamlin would be exiting. Timmy Hill, who drives for an underfunded team and typically would be a lapped car and not pitting at the same time as the leaders, is between him and Busch.

“Pit stall 1 is an advantage here, but it’s nothing we can’t overcome,” Logano crew chief Todd Gordon said. “I feel great about racing from where we are and feel great about our pit crew.

“[JGR] earned the right to be there. They’re 1-2, and they had speed yesterday [in qualifying]. So as an organization, they did a great job.”

Truex has Stall 7, with two typically non-lead-lap drivers, Tanner Berryhill and Ross Chastain, on his way in and out.

Harvick has a pit stall near the Turn 4 side of pit road, with David Ragan (sometimes a lapped car) in the stall next to him on his way in and J.J. Yeley, typically a lapped car, in the stall on his way out.

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