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WEST ALLIS, Wis. - Here's an excuse you won't hear for losing a race: My helicopter pad was blocked by cars.

First, it sounds too crazy.

And second, as crazy as it sounds, Denny Hamlin could have used it Saturday night but didn't need it.

Hamlin turned that strange setback into a challenge and then overcame it to share the victory in the NASCAR Busch Series AT&T 250 with teammate Aric Almirola.

"To come out here and get this win after such a long trip and not being able to land and everything, just having to sit out the first 60 laps, it's amazing to come out here and win this thing," Hamlin said.

Almirola qualified Hamlin's Chevrolet on the pole for the second consecutive year while Hamlin finished his Nextel Cup Series duties in Sonoma, Calif.

This time though - surprise! - Almirola actually started the race. He had to.

Although Hamlin's plane reached Mitchell International Airport on time, a parking snafu hindered his trip to the racetrack. By the time Hamlin arrived on the grounds in a van, Almirola had already taken the green flag.

Almirola led for 42 laps, 40 more than he'd led his 10 previous races, and he sat third at the time of his second pit stop.

But Joe Gibbs Racing put Hamlin in the car for Almirola to appease sponsor Rockwell Automation, which is headquartered in Milwaukee. Hamlin took over, 31st in the order and a lap behind leader Carl Edwards.

"I didn't want to do it," Hamlin said. "I knew he would be really upset, as well as he was running at the time. But we gotta do what we gotta do. It wasn't my choice."

As the starter, Almirola was credited with his first victory in the Busch Series, but he wasn't around to celebrate.

Although gracious after qualifying _ "That's my job," he said _ Almirola darted briskly and quietly from the team's transporter mid-race, surrounded by an entourage that brushed away questioners.

Hamlin became the first relief driver to win in NASCAR since April 13, 1985, when Harry Gant took the checkered flag in Darlington, S.C., in a car qualified by Jack Ingram.

Hamlin finished second last year after starting in the back because of the driver change, and he was just as quick this time.

Hamlin sliced through the field and then got back on the lead lap when the caution flag flew for debris on the 144th lap. Eleven laps later, after Scott Lagasse Jr.'s crash and the ensuing pit stops, Hamlin sat fourth.

By the time the field got to the fourth turn, Hamlin had the lead, and he held it for most of the rest of the night.

He fell to fourth on a final pit stop after 223 laps but dispatched Jason Leffler and Scott Wimmer in a three-wide move on the front stretch with 13 laps to go.

"I just drove as hard as I could, and unfortunately we weren't as good on the short runs," said Wimmer, a Wausau native who last won a Busch race in 2003. "We'd get going after 20 laps, and I didn't need those cautions.

"Maybe we'll get a win one day. Maybe we won't. I don't know."

Wimmer finished second, a half-second behind. Leffler hung on for third, and rookie Brad Coleman, a teammate to Almirola and Hamlin, was fourth.

Edwards, who led 123 laps and appeared to have the race in his grasp, had a slow pit stop when a tire changer slipped and then suffered a flat tire all within a 10-lap span. He fell a lap behind but finished eighth.

"You've got to have the fastest car to win the race, and you've got to have the luck," said Edwards, the runaway Busch Series points leader. "We had a little bad luck, but that's fine."

Another double-duty driver, Edwards had travel trouble, as well. His flight became a two-stop race, when the pilot landed in Iowa and then Madison to refuel. Edwards leaped from a moving golf cart and sprinted through the garage to qualify.

Todd Kluever, a native of Sun Prairie, finished 18th, Kelly Bires of Mauston 30th and Frank Kreyer of Wisconsin Dells, making his first Busch start, crashed out in 34th.

"Maybe we'll get a win one day. Maybe we won't. I don't know."

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1. Aric Almirola(ASTERISK)


2. Scott Wimmer


3. Jason Leffler


4. Brad Coleman


5. Jason Keller


(ASTERISK) Denny Hamlin finished the race

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