Denny Hamlin celebrates in victory lane after winning the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown (Photo: Dinah Mullins)

After going on a two-year hiatus due to complications surrounding Langley Speedway’s brief one-year closure, the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown roared back to life on Thursday evening with a talent-packed field and a near sold-out crowd, concluding with event organizer Denny Hamlin taking home the checkered flag first after holding off a hard-charging Kyle Busch in the closing laps of the race.

“If this was the Kyle Busch Foundation Race, it probably would have ended a little differently for sure,” Hamlin said in victory lane. “We knew that we were going to race each other clean, and he made a heck of a run to get to us there. We got bottled up in traffic, and I knew if I could break free, then I could have a shot at victory. Anytime you let someone get within a car length of you, you know you have a bump coming, and Kyle did a great job of giving us some respect there.”

Hamlin’s dominating performance began in qualifying when he posted the second fastest lap time alongside surprise polesitter Danny Edwards Jr., but it would only take less than five laps for the 2016 Daytona 500 winner to find his way up to the front of the field. After a multi-car accident on Lap 4 that involved several competitive cars, including four-time Whelen All-American Series Champion Philip Morris, Hamlin found himself in a tight battle with his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch for the lead over the next several laps.

After Busch took the lead on a restart, Hamlin began to utilize the high side of the racetrack, which quickly worked to his advantage as he took the lead back from Busch on Lap 13. The remainder of the first and second segments would feature Hamlin constantly defeating Busch on the high side of the track on restarts, with long runs also proving advantageous for the long-time NASCAR veteran, as he was able to stretch his lead over Busch by nearly two seconds before the second and final competition caution came out on Lap 150.

The final segment of the race created more opportunities for Busch to study Hamlin’s behavior on restarts, as several quick cautions eliminated several strong cars from the race, including Tyler Hughes, Justin T. Carroll, and polesitter Danny Edwards Jr. The final restart of the race would prove to be the worst one for Busch, as he would lose second place to CE Falk III after getting loose going into the first turn and lost two more spots on the following lap after nearly losing control of his car again in the same turn.

As Busch attempted to climb back through the field, Falk was able to chase down Hamlin for the lead before using his bumper to move Hamlin out of the way and take the lead with only 36 laps remaining. However, Hamlin refused to let Falk pull away from him, as the two engaged in a fierce battle over the next nine laps before Falk got trapped behind the lapped car of Colin Garrett, providing Hamlin with the opening he needed to wrestle the lead away from Falk with only 25 laps remaining in the race.

Although Falk partially blamed Garrett for not giving him more room in the closing laps, he admitted that there was very little that he could do to hold off and catch Hamlin for his second Short Track Showdown victory.

“We just wore the right front out,” Falk said. “We had been working on fixing that for the last few weeks now, and we burned the right rear off the last time we raced here. We were trying to move some of that weight over, but we just couldn’t get the right front cool enough. The guys who finished first and second get paid millions of dollars to race these things every week, and I just buy cars. I at least got to go up there and lead some laps, so that was good for me.”

Falk was passed by Busch a few laps later, who proceeded to run down Hamlin for the lead and made several attempts to pass his NASCAR teammate. Busch was able to apply pressure to Hamlin but ultimately had nothing for him as Hamlin would go on to claim his second victory in the race that he helped organize to raise awareness and funds to children dealing with cystic fibrosis.

Timothy Peters’ quiet 3rd place run secured a 1-2-3 finish for the Nelson Motorsports team, while Falk and Peyton Sellers finished fourth and fifth respectively. Rounding out the Top 10 were NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Myatt Snider, Justin S. Carroll, Ruben Garcia, Connor Hall and Nick Smith.

2018 Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown Unofficial Results:
Unofficial Results
1. 11 Denny Hamlin
2. 51 Kyle Busch
3. 12p Timothy Peters
4. 02 CE Falk
5. 26s Peyton Sellers
6. 2s Myatt Snider
7. 57c Justin S. Carroll
8. 6 Ruben Garcia
9. 77 Connor Hall
10. 12 Nick Smith -1
11. 22 Grayson Cullather -1
12. 18 Ty Gibbs -1
13. 03 Brenden Queen -1
14. 01 Philip Morris -1
15. 92 Casey Wyatt -2
16. 24g Colin Garrett -2
17. 57j Eddie Johnson -2
18. 24 Mason Diaz -2
19. 55 Mark Wertz OUT
20. 00 Chris Johnson OUT
21. 4 Chase Cabre OUT
22. 57 Justin T. Carroll OUT
23. 88b Doug Barnes OUT
24. 8 Tyler Hughes OUT
25. 26 Danny Edwards OUT
26. 98 Nicholas Sanchez OUT
27. 83 Matt Bowling OUT
28. 94 Cody Carlton OUT
29. 2 Ryan Vargas OUT
30. 16m Brett Moffitt OUT
31. 16 Bubba Johnston OUT
32. 90 Terry Carroll OUT
33. 41 Woody Howard OUT