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‘Tailless’ Hamlin Finds Victory Lane At Darlington

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, September 4 2017

Denny Hamlin overcame a late pitting problem to win the Southern 500 at Darlington on Sunday night. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Andrew Coppley)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

DARLINGTON, S.C. – Two laps. That was all that remained when the Lady in Black snatched victory from Martin Truex Jr.’s grasp and handed it to Denny Hamlin on Sunday, giving him his second Bojangles Southern 500 win at Darlington Raceway.

It was a gut wrenching experience for Truex, who won the race’s first two stages and led five times for 76 laps. But it was redemption for Hamlin, who missed the pit road entrance when he attempted to make his final stop and lost a precious 10 seconds on the 1.366-mile track.

“I didn’t think once he missed pit road we had a great chance anymore,” crew chief Michael Wheeler said. “I knew he gave up 10 seconds on the leaders, and ultimately as much as I was trying to coach him to get mad and get even with everyone else, I knew it was hard to make up 10 seconds over one stint.”

But Hamlin did it by driving “my tail off.”

With 20 laps remaining in the 367-lap race, Hamlin was third, slightly more than six seconds behind Truex. He was charging, however, and with 17 laps remaining had taken second. At the time, he trailed his fellow Toyota driver by 5.943 seconds. But with 10 laps to go Hamlin had sliced the deficit to 3.169 seconds. Lapped traffic gave way to the two front-runners as the laps wound down, but it still was a factor. It also was no secret that Hamlin’s tires were fresher while Truex was nursing worn ones. In the end, with two laps remaining, Truex lost his right-front tire and tagged the wall while Hamlin shot underneath him and on to victory.

“I was so high getting in the corner anyway that I only had six inches to go to hit it,” said Truex, who clinched the regular season championship with one race remaining. “I literally stepped on the brake. The car turned right. I was a foot from the wall when the tire popped, and I just kind of glanced off it and glanced around the track. It really wasn’t bad at all. I was actually able to make two laps with the thing on the inner liner and finish eighth. Not bad, just disappointing more than anything.”

For Hamlin, it was the second time he’s swept the NASCAR weekend at Darlington, claiming the Xfinity race the day before the Cup event. He first accomplished the feat in 2010, making him just the third person to do so at the tough track. Dale Earnhardt first recorded the achievement in 1987, while Mark Martin followed in 1993. Hamlin now has seven Cup and Xfinity Darlington victories on his racing resume.

“There’s something about the race track that kind of suits my driving style,” said Hamlin, who led four times and tied Kyle Larson for the most laps led with 124. “From the very first time I came here at a test, Tony Stewart was here and kind of really helped me kind of find my way around this race track. I don’t know what it is about it, but it just suits the way I drive.

“To be able to run a little bit unorthodox line, I think, helps me at this race track. I think … every time I come back I learn a little bit more from what I did in the past. You refine the way you do things and you get a little bit better and it’s led to success.”

Hamlin’s victory meant Joe Gibbs Racing has swept the last two Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race weekends. Kyle Busch swept the three-race weekend at Bristol. Then two weeks later Hamlin added Darlington to his trophy case with his 31st career Cup victory and his 17th career Xfinity win.

This year’s Bojangles Southern 500 had 20 lead changes among eight drivers and was slowed by eight caution flags for 38 laps. Hamlin averaged 132.761 mph as he took a 2.599-second victory over Kyle Busch.

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race – Bojangles’ Southern 500

Darlington Raceway

Darlington, South Carolina

Sunday, September 3, 2017

  1. (9) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 367.
  2. (3) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 367.
  3. (7) Kurt Busch, Ford, 367.
  4. (13) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 367.
  5. (10) Erik Jones #, Toyota, 367.
  6. (11) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 367.
  7. (17) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 367.
  8. (2) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 367.
  9. (1) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 366.
  10. (5) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 366.
  11. (20) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 366.
  12. (18) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 366.
  13. (25) Ty Dillon #, Chevrolet, 366.
  14. (4) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 366.
  15. (6) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 366.
  16. (21) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 366.
  17. (27) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 366.
  18. (8) Joey Logano, Ford, 366.
  19. (30) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 365.
  20. (15) Aric Almirola, Ford, 365.
  21. (31) Landon Cassill, Ford, 365.
  22. (22) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 365.
  23. (34) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 364.
  24. (23) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 364.
  25. (26) David Ragan, Ford, 363.
  26. (33) Danica Patrick, Ford, 363.
  27. (28) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 362.
  28. (35) Corey LaJoie #, Toyota, 360.
  29. (14) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 358.
  30. (37) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 356.
  31. (12) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 356.
  32. (38) * Derrike Cope, Toyota, 351.
  33. (40) * Carl Long(i), Chevrolet, 350.
  34. (29) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 340.
  35. (24) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 336.
  36. (36) * Gray Gaulding #, Toyota, Accident, 202.
  37. (39) * Cody Ware, Chevrolet, Accident, 144.
  38. (19) Daniel Suarez #, Toyota, Accident, 125.
  39. (32) Reed Sorenson, Toyota, Clutch, 104.
  40. (16) Clint Bowyer, Ford, Engine, 18.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  132.761 mph.

Time of Race:  3 Hrs, 46 Mins, 34 Secs. Margin of Victory:  2.599 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  8 for 38 laps.

Lead Changes:  20 among 8 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   K. Harvick 1-18; Kyle Busch 19-21; K. Larson 22-99; M. Truex Jr. 100-102; K. Larson 103-147; M. Truex Jr. 148-156; K. Larson 157; D. Hamlin 158-178; M. Truex Jr. 179-200; K. Harvick 201; D. Hamlin 202-250; B. Keselowski 251-253; L. Cassill 254-258; M. Truex Jr. 259-261; Kyle Busch 262; D. Hamlin 263-313; Kyle Busch 314-315; K. Harvick 316-318; Kurt Busch 319-325; M. Truex Jr. 326-364; D. Hamlin 365-367.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  D. Hamlin 4 times for 124 laps; K. Larson 3 times for 124 laps; M. Truex Jr. 5 times for 76 laps; K. Harvick 3 times for 22 laps; Kurt Busch 1 time for 7 laps; Kyle Busch 3 times for 6 laps; L. Cassill 1 time for 5 laps; B. Keselowski 1 time for 3 laps.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 78,42,11,4,2,77,1,22,18,3

Stage #2 Top Ten: 78,11,4,42,18,2,41,1,3,20

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, September 4 2017
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