Hamlin Takes Checkers, Almirola Takes Win At Milwaukee

For the first time since Harry Gant won in Jack Ingram?s car on April 13, 1985 at Darlington, a relief driver has won a Busch Series race.

With Denny Hamlin buzzing overhead in a helicopter looking for a place to land, Aric Almirola led the field to the green for the AT&T 250 at the Milwaukee Mile on Saturday evening.

Almirola?s job this weekend was to qualify the Rockwell Automation Chevrolet and turn the racing over to Nextel Cup star Hamlin. Qualifying for the pole position for the second year in a row, Almirola accomplished exactly what the team wanted him to do. When the helicopter holding Hamlin, traveling from the race in Sonoma, CA, was unable to land at the track, Almirola hopped in the car and started the race.

With Hamlin finally at the track, Almirola running in third and the caution flag flying on lap 58 when Ron Hornaday crashed in turn one, a team decision was made to have Hamlin take over the driving duties. Restarting in the 30th position, Hamlin began his climb through the field.

?They asked me if I wanted to get in and I was either way,? said Hamlin regarding the driver change. ?I flew a long way to come here and race but, Aric was doing an exceptional job.?

In the meantime Carl Edwards, who had started ninth, had taken the lead and control of the race. After leading a race high 123 laps, a cut right rear tire forced Edwards to bring his Dish Network Ford onto pit lane, relinquishing the lead back the car now being driven by Hamlin.

With 28 laps left in the race, the caution was once again displayed as Frank Kreyer found the wall. After the lead lap cars pitted, Scott Wimmer and Jason Leffler took on right side tires only and moved into first and second place respectively.

Caution flew again for a multicar incident and the race was restarted with fifteen laps to go. Two laps later, with Leffler and Wimmer battling for the lead, Hamlin made the battle three-wide and resumed the lead.

?I had something for him (Wimmer) for two laps and had to beat him up there on the restart,? explained Leffler. ?Hamlin set us up like a couple of bowling pins and went right by us both.?

The ninth and final caution bunched the field up with five laps remaining but, Hamlin would not be challenged and went on to take the checkered flag.

A dejected Wimmer finished in second with Leffler in third. ?We need to get better on our shorter runs. We?ve been struggling all year on that and tonight it bit us. We?d get going after 20 laps. Maybe we?ll get a win one day, maybe we won?t,? commented Wimmer.

Rookie Brad Coleman finished fourth with Jason Keller rounding out the top five.
Edwards received the lucky-dog lap back late in the race and was bale to recover to an eighth place finish, one spot behind David Reutimann. With bonus points, Edwards increased his points lead to 776 over Reutimann.

The record books will show Almirola as the winner and benefactor of points and winnings, but he had left the track before Hamlin celebrated with the team in victory lane.

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