With about 50 laps to go in Sunday’s Bojangles Southern 500, Denny Hamlin screwed up.
Coming out of the turn and looking for pit road, Hamlin slid on the slick track at Darlington Raceway and missed pit row. He skidded to a stop, realized his error, and then stepped on the gas to try to catch up. The mistake cost him about eight seconds, sending him back from the lead to 14th place. The question was: Would he have enough time to catch up and retake the lead?
The answer was yes, barely. Hamlin chipped away at Martin Truex Jr.’s lead over those last 50 laps, and with three laps to go, he finally broke through. Truex Jr. scrubbed the wall, scraping it just enough to tank his chances and let Hamlin pass him. From then, all Hamlin had to do was last another two laps.
The victory breaks a streak of 11 different winners in the last 11 races at Darlington, as Hamlin last won at the track in 2010. It’s his second win so far this season.
Stage 1: Kyle Larson led for 78 of the first 100 laps, but he couldn’t hang on against Truex Jr., who came from behind to take his 16th stage this season. Larson went high on the track, and Truex Jr. passed him underneath to win by half a car length.
Stage 2: The second hundred laps ended under a caution after Gray Gaulding spun out. That meant Truex Jr., who was in the lead at the time, also won the second stage – with that point, he clinched the regular season points championship.
Stage 3: It turned into a three-man battle at the end between Truex Jr., Hamlin and Busch. Ultimately, Truex Jr. pushed his fuel too far, allowing Hamlin to pass him and win the race in the last three laps.
Three who mattered
Denny Hamlin: Even after Hamlin’s pit road mishap, he left himself enough time to get back into the race. With three laps to go, he finally overtook Truex Jr. again and held off a storming Kyle Busch to take the checkered flag.
Kyle Busch: While he was in contention during the last 50 laps, he just wasn’t able to hold on for the win. Still, this makes for his 10th Top-5 finish this season, and he should carry that momentum into the playoffs.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: In his final race at Darlington, Junior wasn’t able to come up with the win that eluded him throughout his career. He finished 22nd, meaning next weekend’s race at Richmond will likely be his last.
▪ It took under 10 minutes for the track known as “Too Tough to Tame” to claim its first victim, Ryan Blaney. He brushed the wall in the first few laps, and then Trevor Bayne followed suit right after.
▪ Clint Bowyer, who came into Darlington as the No. 17 driver in the playoff standings, finished last on Sunday after being forced to retire early with a blown engine. “To be out like this, this early?” Bowyer said. “Pretty much sucks.”
▪ This is the third season of the Southern 500’s revival, and the race serves as NASCAR’s throwback weekend. Some of the best sights: Austin Dillon and Ryan Newman sporting Dale Earnhardt’s signature paint scheme; Jimmie Johnson’s retro Lowe’s hat before the race; and Blaney’s old-fashioned mustache, which channeled Ron Burgundy and Dr. Phil.
They said it
“Drove our a-- off. That’s as hard as I can drive.” – Hamlin on coming from behind to win.
Federated Auto Parts 400
Where: Richmond Raceway, Richmond, V.A.
When: Saturday, Sept. 9 at 7:30 P.M.
TV: NBC Sports.