Hamlin Dusts Field, Cleans Up At Darlington
Denny Hamlin restarted the Showtime Southern 500 Sprint Cup race at Darlington Raceway Saturday night with the lead with 20 laps to go and had no problem holding off the field to get the victory.
Hamlin’s victory gave him a weekend sweep as he won the Nationwide Series race on Friday night. The sweep was just the third at Darlington and the first since Mark Martin did it back in 1993.
“A great day for us,” Hamlin said. “To pull off the sweep on Mother’s Day Weekend – I gotta say Happy Mother’s Day to my mom, Mary Lou. Just a great weekend for us.”
Mom was one of the first to greet Hamlin in Victory Lane. And?
“She said, ‘How about that sweep? ’ ”
Hamlin’s victory on Saturday was by 1.9 seconds. It was Hamlin’s third victory of the season and the 11th of his career.
The two drivers which appeared to have the best shots at beating Hamlin in the Cup race – Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon – blew their chances at victory by making mistakes on the final pit stop of the evening. Gordon missed the commitment cone while trying to pit and Burton was penalized for running over a hose in the pits.
“We had a top-two car all day,” Hamlin said. ”Us, Jeff (Gordon) and the other Jeff (Burton) were really strong and we put ourselves in position. The pit crew got me out first and that was the key.”
Jamie McMurray, who started from the pole, finished second. On Friday, McMurray finished third in the Nationwide race.
So, big weekend for McMurray – though not a surprising one to him and his teams.
“Even like last week at Richmond, we were fastest in one of the practices,” McMurray said. “Like our cars have been really fast. We just haven’t been able to get the finishes out of it. Early on, even in the race tonight, we led some laps, ran top five, then towards the end we kind of got pushed back because of the way the pit strategy worked out. I’m thinking the same thing. Even if you have to run 10th tonight, don’t put yourself in a bad position.
“Our season has actually been really good, winning the 500, almost winning at Talladega, running second again tonight. We’ve been able to put ourself in position to win three races this year. I don’t know that in my career I’ve been able to do that, much less in the first eight or ten races.”
Kurt Busch finished third. A very welcome third.
“I haven’t had a solid run like tonight since Ricky Craven and I battled it out for that win,” Busch, whose brother Kyle finished second to Hamlin on Friday, said. “It feels good to get our Miller Lite Dodge back up front. It came down to a strategy where I though two tires would be the way to go at the end. We had the right strategy, we just didn’t have enough speed.
“I think Denny Hamlin and Jamie McMurray were stronger than us tonight, but we’ll take this third-place finish. I was going for it on the last lap. I was on the edge, but it doesn’t matter because you just have to cross that finish line. This track is so much fun to race when you finish good.”
Gordon came back to finish fourth.
“That is what happens when you make a make a mistake,” Gordon said of missing pit road. “You have to make it up to your guys who worked so hard all weekend long to give you a race car like that.
“They dropped the green and we were just a rocket. You have to worry sometimes here as long of a race as it is when it cools down how you are going to maintain that kind of speed and stay on top of the adjustments. We got off a little bit and some other guys ended up being a little bit better than us at times. Track position was just key tonight. I made a mistake there and lost the track position. They gave me an awesome car and drove up there to fourth, pretty happy with that.”
Juan Pablo Montoya was fifth.
Burton finished eighth.
Jimmie Johnson, a three-time winner this season and in pursuit of his fifth straight championship, didn’t finish. He was involved in a wreck on lap 179 and was a DNF. A confused DNF.
“We still had a very fast race car and I think we could have salvaged a top-10, top-five finish today,” Johnson said. “It is too bad. I’m going back and watch the video because I have no clue, I guess it was A.J. (Allmendinger) because he came and apologized to me and said his brakes failed or something. I don’t know if he was behind me or where he was, but he came in there hot and hit me hard.
“He wasn’t in my line of site then all of a sudden the caution was out and here came a car flying up the track and into me. I saw him in the care center there and it sounds like he had a brake failure or something there. Just wrong place, wrong time I guess. We had a tough night and a bunch of small issues but we were still fighting through all that and there on the lead lap. Hopefully we were going to have a top-10 finish but oh, we got slammed over there in three and four.”No Comment