Denny Hamlin Rallies To Score Second Southern 500 Win

Denny Hamlin celebrates his second Southern 500 win
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After nearly giving the race away with a pit road miscue on the final round of pit stops, Denny Hamlin rallied to erase a 20-second deficit over race leader Martin Truex, Jr. and inherited the lead when Truex cut a tire and hit the wall with two laps to go, completing a remarkable comeback to win Saturday night's Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway for the second time in his career.

Kyle Busch finished second, followed by Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon and Erik Jones.

Hamlin had nearly a full-lap lead over the field with 55 laps to go when he missed the pit entrance and fell all the way back to 15th, and watched his chance to win one of NASCAR's most prestigious races slip away.

"I looked at my dash and I gave up about 10 to 12 seconds and I was like, 'I don't know if I can,' you know? 'Were we going to win this race by 10 or 12 seconds? I doubt it,' and so we just had to put on a heck of a drive," said Hamlin. "My crew chief, Wheels (Mike Wheeler), was motivating me every lap to push, push, push and that's all I had."

Hamlin, driving a throwback paint scheme honoring modified driver Ray Hendrick on his no. 11 Toyota, notched his second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory of the season and 19th of his career, and swept Darlington weekend following his victory in Saturday's NASCAR Xfinity Series race.

"This is a throwback to my history – this is for Roy Hendrick, Bugs Hairfield, Wayne Patterson, Eddie Johnson, the short track guys that I grew up watching. This was a throwback to them," said Hamlin. "Back in 1985 and 1989, I was at Southside Speedway in the stands watching them race and learning everything I could from them and this is a throwback to them and their history."

Hamlin's throwback glory came at the expense of Truex, Jr., who up until the last lap had been the driver to beat after sweeping the opening two 100-lap stages.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"] Truex seemed to be able to chase down anyone now matter how much of a lead they had on him. At the end of the first stage, Truex erased Kyle Larson's half-second lead and made the pass for the lead in the final corner to win the stage.

In the second stage, Truex restarted second and chased down Hamlin on lap 179 and held on to collect his 17th stage win and clinch the regular season championship.

Hamlin won the race off pit road and led the field to the start of the final segment, leading 100 of the next 112 laps

By lap 300, the field began to hit pit road for tires and fuel but Hamlin and crew chief Mike Wheeler elected to stay out – hoping to pit within their fuel window so they could make it to the end of the race without making another pit stop.

As the pit stops cycled around, Hamlin had nearly a full lap on the field when he finally came to pit road on lap 313, but overshot the entrance to pit road and had to come around again, losing falling behind by more than 20 seconds by the time he finally made it off pit road.

With his teammate Kyle Busch running a similar strategy, Hamlin and Busch rejoined the race in 14th and 15th, respectively, with Harvick, Kurt Busch and Truex, Jr. leading the way up front.

With less than 10 laps on their tires than the rest of the cars in front of them, Hamlin and Kyle Busch methodically picked their way through the field, breaking back into the top 10 with 40 laps to go and into the top five by 20 laps to go.

Denny Hamlin takes the checkered flag at Darlington
Sarah Crabill/Getty Images

Up front, Truex, Jr. had worked his way back to the lead on lap 326 and opened up a six second lead by the time Hamlin moved into second place with 19 laps to go.

With five to go, Hamlin had caught Truex and was trailing but just four car lengths.

Coming to two to go, Truex, Jr. brushed the wall on the backstretch and cut down his right-front tire going into turn three, allowing Hamlin to duck to the low side in turn four and take the lead. Hamlin held on from there and crossed the line by 2.6 seconds over Kyle Busch.

Truex, Jr., the defending race winner of the event, collected 15 playoff points by virtue of clinching the regular-season championship – a small consolation after missing out on a second-straight Southern 500 victory.

"It was definitely a bittersweet night for us, to come up just two laps short there, blow a tire at the end after having no issues with tires all night and having such a good race car," said Truex, Jr. "Wish we could have won, but that's the breaks. Sometimes they go your way, sometimes they don't, and tonight we come up a little short. But definitely a lot to be proud of.

"You just never know how these things are going to play out. Had we had a late caution, we might have been in really good shape, but we might have also got beat on a restart. You never know, so it just didn't work out tonight. Like I said, two laps, man. Two laps."

Kyle Busch had quite a rally of his own – coming back from 14th after his final pit stop to finish second for his second-straight top two finish.

"I certainly wish that we could have kept pace with the 11 (Denny Hamlin) a little bit longer. We were right there with him for a long time – longer than we had all night long in that final stint – but he got through a couple lap cars a little quicker than I did and then they got side by side and then I got sucked into the fence and after that it just wasn't the same."

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finished 22nd in his final Southern 500, but in post-race inspection was found to have two loose lug nuts on his no. 88 Chevrolet, which will likely result in a fine and one race suspension for crew chief Greg Ives going into the critical final regular-season race next weekend at Richmond.

RACE RESULTS

Pos. # Driver Make Start Laps Led Status Points Playoff Points
1 11 Denny Hamlin Toyota 9 367 124 Running 57 12
2 18 Kyle Busch Toyota 3 367 6 Running 43 20
3 41 Kurt Busch Ford 7 367 7 Running 38 5
4 3 Austin Dillon Chevy 13 367 0 Running 36 5
5 77 Erik Jones Toyota 10 367 0 Running 37 0
6 20 Matt Kenseth Toyota 11 367 0 Running 32 3
7 31 Ryan Newman Chevy 17 367 0 Running 30 5
8 78 Martin Truex Jr. Toyota 2 367 76 Running 49 37
9 4 Kevin Harvick Ford 1 366 22 Running 43 8
10 1 Jamie McMurray Chevy 5 366 0 Running 34 0
11 24 Chase Elliott Chevy 20 366 0 Running 26 2
12 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevy 18 366 0 Running 25 16
13 13 Ty Dillon Chevy 25 366 0 Running 24 0
14 42 Kyle Larson Chevy 4 366 124 Running 39 18
15 2 Brad Keselowski Ford 6 366 3 Running 33 14
16 27 Paul Menard Chevy 21 366 0 Running 21 0
17 37 Chris Buescher Chevy 27 366 0 Running 20 0
18 22 Joey Logano Ford 8 366 0 Running 22 1
19 95 Michael McDowell Chevy 30 365 0 Running 18 0
20 43 Aric Almirola Ford 15 365 0 Running 17 0
21 34 Landon Cassill Ford 31 365 5 Running 16 0
22 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevy 22 365 0 Running 15 0
23 72 Cole Whitt Chevy 34 364 0 Running 14 0
24 5 Kasey Kahne Chevy 23 364 0 Running 13 5
25 38 David Ragan Ford 26 363 0 Running 12 0
26 10 Danica Patrick Ford 33 363 0 Running 11 0
27 32 Matt DiBenedetto Ford 28 362 0 Running 10 0
28 23 Corey Lajoie Toyota 35 360 0 Running 9 0
29 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Ford 14 358 0 Running 8 10
30 33 Jeffrey Earnhardt Chevy 37 356 0 Running 7 0
31 21 Ryan Blaney Ford 12 356 0 Running 6 8
32 55 Derrike Cope Toyota 38 351 0 Running 5 0
33 66 Carl Long Chevy 40 350 0 Running 0 0
34 47 AJ Allmendinger Chevy 29 340 0 Running 3 0
35 6 Trevor Bayne Ford 24 336 0 Running 2 0
36 83 Gray Gaulding Toyota 36 202 0 Accident 1 0
37 51 Cody Ware Chevy 39 144 0 Accident 1 0
38 19 Daniel Suarez Toyota 19 125 0 Accident 1 1
39 15 Reed Sorenson Toyota 32 104 0 Clutch 1 0
40 14 Clint Bowyer Ford 16 18 0 Engine 1 1

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